Jewish astronauts orbiting the earth face a particularly vexing question on Friday nights: how do you celebrate Shabbat at sundown when the sun rises and sets approximately every hour? What about eating matzo in microgravity during the holiday of Passover? Or taking a Torah into space? “Crumbs would fly around the shuttle,” Astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman realized, so he left the matzo at home. But after consulting his rabbi, Hoffman, NASA’s first Jewish male astronaut, did bring a tiny Torah and read from the Book of Genesis while passing over Jerusalem. Sharing these and other stories from orbit, Dr. Hoffman will talk about his fascinating career and unusual Jewish journey in a program designed for space enthusiasts of all ages. Hosted by the Center for Jewish History and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research on May 7th at 6:30 pm, the program is presented in conjunction with their current exhibition, Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit. Dr. Valerie Neal, Curator and Chair of the Space History Department at the Smithsonian Institution, will be joining Dr. Hoffman to introduce the program and provide the history of Jewish astronauts.
From gazing up to the heavens in ancient times, to soaring up in modern times, Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit features a stellar array of rare artifacts from 18th-century Hebrew astronomy texts, to the yad, mezuzah, and tiny travel Torah that astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman carried into space. Starting in biblical times when early calendars were based on the cycles of the moon, the exhibit highlights Jewish scholars who wrote about astronomy and science in Hebrew, Yiddish, and German; Nobel prize-winning Jewish physicists Albert A. Michelson and Albert Einstein; and the Jewish men and women, astronauts and cosmonauts who bravely soared into the heavens. The exhibition also features the immense contributions of Jewish writers, filmmakers, and entertainers like Hugo Gernsback, a Jewish immigrant widely known as the Father of Science Fiction; Star Wars actors Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner; filmmakers Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey), Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and of course, Mel Brooks, whose parody film trailer, Jews in Space, inspired the title of this exhibition.
About the Speakers:
Jeffrey Alan Hoffman, Ph.D., was NASA’s first Jewish male astronaut, and has been to space five times. A professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, Hoffman’s space missions have included repairing the Hubble Space Telescope in 1993, when the orbiting telescope’s flawed optical system was corrected. Over the course of his five missions he has logged more than 1,211 hours and 21.5 million miles in space. Born on November 2, 1944, in Brooklyn, New York, Hoffman received a Bachelor of Arts degree in astronomy from Amherst College in 1966, a Masters Degree in materials science from Rice University in 1988, and a Doctor of Philosophy in astrophysics from Harvard University in 1971.
Dr. Valerie Neal has been a space history curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum since 1989 and is current chair of the Space History Department. Her research, exhibition, and collection responsibilities focus on human spaceflight in the Space Shuttle era and beyond. Author of numerous books on space flight and science, Dr. Neal has curated three major exhibitions on space exploration and eight Smithsonian Channel documentaries. Before joining the Smithsonian, Dr. Neal spent a decade in Huntsville, Alabama, writing for NASA. She also participated in underwater astronaut crew training activities and worked in mission support on four Shuttle missions. Dr. Neal has taught at the University of Minnesota, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Vanderbilt University, and Georgetown University.
Tickets: $15 general admission; $10 CJH/YIVO members at www.yivo.org/jews-in-Orbit
To learn more about the Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit Exhibit:https://www.cjh.org/jewsinspace/
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