Grapevine: Space odyssey

Peres reveals Israel has been involved in NASA programs since the Seventies.

Peres 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Peres 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
MOST PEOPLE are under the impression that Israel's adventures in outer space began with the late Col. Ilan Ramon, whose journey on the space shuttle Columbia ended in tragedy five years ago. But President Shimon Peres disclosed last week that Israel had engaged in cooperative endeavors with the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration since the mid-1970s. Peres was speaking last Wednesday at the Air Force Center in Herzliya, at the third Ilan Ramon Space Conference hosted by the Fisher Institute and the Science Culture and Sport Ministry. The conference was also attended by a NASA delegation, which together with Peres met with students from the Herzliya Practical Engineering School, who last year competed in the FIRST Robotics Contest. The students gave a demonstration of their robot's capabilities. This year's contest, under the auspices of Microsoft, will be one of the central events of Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations as part of "Technology Cadets," a project initiated by Peres. NASA representatives have been coming to Israel at least once a year since Ramon's death. In his address to the conference, Peres said that when he was defense minister, he realized that Israel could not afford to remain behind in the race to conquer outer space. In 1975, when putting in a request to the US for military acquisitions, he also asked for a spacecraft and for Israel to be allowed to participate in NASA programs. There were many eyebrows raised in Israel at the time, said Peres, but it was a period in which the superpowers were busy exploring space and developing the most advanced technologies to send a man to the moon, and it was imperative that Israel be involved. The Americans acceded to Israel's request, and there had been flourishing cooperation between NASA and Israel ever since, said Peres. Israel might be small in size and population, said Peres, but it had some of the best technological minds in the world, including experts aviation and space exploration. When NASA astronauts Sunita Williams and Michael Lopez-Alegria together with Ramon's widow, Rona, attended a meeting of the Knesset Science and Technology Committee, they were told by committee chairman Benny Elon that Israel would like to send another astronaut into space. Science and Culture Minister Ghaleb Majadle said Israel's major problem was how to lure back the thousands of Israeli scientists and hi-tech professionals now living abroad. The NASA delegation also met with Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, who thanked them and their families for their contribution to science, humanity and progress. Although the NASA delegation, along with the victims of the tragedy, all represented different backgrounds and different countries, said Itzik, "you represent our future and our ability to together reach new frontiers and the next frontier." Williams, a classmate of Ramon, said that in her conversations with him, they had spoken of the fact that astronauts do not see borders, they see people, "and it is the diversity that makes us rich."
  • AFTER LOSING his appeal against his prison sentence for election campaign irregularities, former MK Omri Sharon has found a champion in public relations guru, Ran Rahav, who has written a letter to Peres asking for a pardon. Omri has spent much of his time tending to his father, former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who has been in a coma for two years. In his letter, Rahav not only praises Omri Sharon's devotion to his father, but also points out that he has already paid dearly for his debt to society in having lost a promising political career and in having to watch his father in a vegetative state. However, even if Peres felt inclined to pardon the younger Sharon, he cannot do so because, according to the law, the application for a pardon must be made by Sharon himself. According to Beit Hanassi spokeswoman Ayelet Frish, no such request has been received. If and when it does come, it would be handled by the pardons division in the president's office and would then be passed on to the appropriate department in the Justice Ministry, which would then review the situation and make its recommendations. By the way, Ariel Sharon will turn 80 on February 27.
  • ALTHOUGH THE major events marking the 40th anniversary of the start of the Struggle for Soviet Jewry have already been held, former Soviet Jews, especially former refuseniks and Prisoners of Zion, have not forgotten the efforts of those who risked much to help them. This is why Beth Hatefutsoth, which has a major ongoing exhibition to illustrate the struggle and the people involved from both sides of the Iron Curtain, is also hosting a memorial symposium in honor of the late Yitzhak Rager, the Cairo-born journalist, diplomat and Likud mayor of Beersheba, who was a Nativ emissary. It is no coincidence that Natan Sharansky, one of the best known Prisoners of Zion and who will be one of the speakers, is also chairman of Beth Hatefutsoth's board of directors. Other speakers will include Beersheba Mayor Ya'akov Terner, Nativ Naomi Ben-Ami, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, former ambassador to France and the US Meir Rosenne, journalist and former Nativ emissary to the US Sara Frankel and Doreen Gainsford, who was a member of the famed 35s, a group of British Jewish women who helped to change the tide of history by creating worldwide awareness of what was happening to Jews in the Soviet Union. Rager, who was born to a Russian mother, already started taking an interest in Soviet Jewry early in his journalistic career, and he was a natural choice to work for Nativ's New York branch. The February 26 symposium dedicated to his memory will focus on the contribution of the West to the Struggle for Soviet Jewry.
  • THE JABOTINSKY Institute in Tel Aviv is not exactly where one would expect to find an Arab politician. But Culture, Science and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle makes a point of visiting as many cultural institutions as possible regardless of how his own outlook on life might differ from the views taught at any institution. However, he was reportedly quite impressed with much of what he saw and learned at the Jabotinsky Institute recently, and displayed genuine interest and curiosity. At the conclusion of the visit, he remarked that as is the case with all great leaders, there are issues on which one can agree and there are issues of dispute.
  • IF ALL goes well and the Screenwriters' Guild strike is resolved, the ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the Oscar awards will take place on February 24. Israel got in early with a photographic Oscar exhibition dating back to 1929 when Janet Gaynor was awarded the first-ever Oscar for her performance in Street Angel. The exhibition in the Ramat Aviv Mall is impressive, with large photographs of winners and of other film stars attending the ceremonies throughout the years. Zvia Leviev-Alazarov, who is the key business representative of the Leviev family living in Israel now that her father has moved to London, recently hosted a press conference there in the morning and a somewhat more glamorous cocktail reception in the evening to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Oscars. One thing remained clear at both events. A beautifully-designed evening gown is more often than not a timeless creation that will always look good. Exceptions might include the one worn in 1969 by Funny Girl star Barbra Streisand, who hopefully will wear something a little more modest when she comes to Israel in May. Clark Gable, who starred in It Happened One Night in 1935, looked no less handsome and macho than in Gone with the Wind. At the morning affair, a television journalist reporting that Richard Gere didn't feature had obviously not done the full round of photos, which had been placed on doubled-sided panels. Gere's photograph was on the other side of the panel behind her. It was nice to see two photographs of Michael Jackson when he was still a handsome young man, but even nicer to see a photograph of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, who proved that at least some Hollywood marriages were meant to last.
  • PEOPLE MIGHT know less about Jewish life in Hebron were it not for David Wilder who transmits a regular blog about the Jewish families that live there. One of his most recent writings is about Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan and his wife Chaya, who were married at the Cave of the Machpela many years ago, and subsequently moved to Yamit. The groom was a grandson of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, the first chief rabbi of Eretz Israel. Following the destruction of Yamit and the evacuation of its residents, Ra'anan and his wife moved to Hebron and lived in a small caravan in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood. Nine-and-a-half years ago, he was stabbed to death by a terrorist in his caravan. A Torah study center known as Ohr Shlomo was subsequently established on the exact site of his murder. Ra'anan's daughter, Tzippy, and her husband, Rabbi Yisrael Shlissel, decided to moved to Hebron, and Shlissel became dean of the Torah study center. However, until they had a house in which to live, he took a 90-minute drive from his home to Hebron and back every day. In the course of such a drive, he too was attacked by a terrorist, who shot at him but miraculously missed. Eventually the Shlissels and their large brood moved to Hebron, settling in the Mitzpe Shalhevet neighborhood. Three years ago, after their expulsion together with eight other families, the Shlissels moved to a large caravan home in Tel Rumeida, only a few meters from the spot where Tzippy's father were murdered. Of the Shlissel's many children, three are married, the most recent only a month ago. In the interim, Tzippy gave birth to her eleventh child, a boy. The brit had been scheduled for the Cave of the Machpela where the infant's grandparents had been married, but because of the cold, snowy weather, the ceremony was conducted in the Ohr Shlomo study hall. Even though the roads were closed, many people braved the elements and filled the room, among them Rabbis Dov Lior and Eliezer Waldman, who both teach at Ohr Shlomo. Rabbi Waldman held the child in his arms, while Rabbi Lior recited the blessing prior to the naming of the child, who is known today as Avraham Yitzhak, in the hope that he will pass on the legacy of his great grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook.
  • DESPITE POLICE warnings that roads leading to Jerusalem were dangerous during last week's snow storm because they were covered in ice, families and individuals from many parts of the country could not resist. They filled all the parks to make snowmen, to slide in the snow and to throw snowballs at each other. In areas where there were no parks, children ran their hands along fences to gather snow for snowballs. It was such a fun thing that even comedian Eli Yatzpan felt the need to come to Jerusalem and see it for himself. He spent a lot of time speaking to the guys responsible for cleaning snow from the roads. Usually when he comes to Jerusalem, he goes to visit Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to receive a blessing. But the real reason for the visit this time was to shoot a segment for his popular television show, Shalom and Good Evening. A team of judges headed by Mayor Uri Lupoliansky chose a lion sculpted from snow as the best "snowman" in a contest held in Gan Sacher. The ice sculpture was made by Uri Levy from Neveh Ya'akov.
  • JERUSALEM POST columnist Isi Leibler and his wife, Naomi, experienced a change of status last Friday when one of their grand-daughters gave birth to twin boys. This effectively turned them into great-grandparents and their mothers, Berth Porush and Rachel Leibler, into great-great-grandparents. When the Leiblers were growing up in Australia, many of their friends had no grandparents and had never known them because they had perished in the Holocaust. The twins not only have two sets of grandparents and four sets of great grandparents but also great great grandparents - something that was almost unheard of in the Leiblers' youth. The two boys are not the only new bundles of joy in the family. One of the Leiblers' daughters-in-law is expecting to give birth some time this month, and everyone is now trying to work out what the relationship will be between all the infants.