The Space Foundation has formed a relationship with West Street Productions to help fund the production of a documentary about the long journey of a tiny Torah scroll into space. The story received global attention on Jan. 21, 2003, when Israeli astronaut Col. Ilan Ramon held the scroll before the camera during a live feed from the Space Shuttle Columbia. When the shuttle disintegrated 11 days later, the tiny Torah scroll, along with the six astronauts, disintegrated upon re-entering the atmosphere.
The Torah scroll had belonged to Dr. Joachim Joseph, or "Yoya" as his friends know him. Yoya headed the Israeli science team working with Ramon during the mission. Yoya was also a Holocaust survivor who had celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in secret at the camp Bergen-Belsen. A Rabbi gave Yoya the small scroll as his Bar Mitzvah gift with the condition that he promise to use the scroll to tell the story of what happened at the camp.
"This is a powerful story, and Ramon knew he was taking on a tremendous responsibility when he became Israel's first astronaut," said executive producer Dan Cohen of West Street Productions. "He knew he had to make a statement to the world that Israel was now part of an elite space exploring club. He used the Torah scroll from the Holocaust to show the world - as he put it - 'what a Jew can do when you go from the depths of hell to the heights of space.'"
During the Columbia mission, Israel's prime minister invited the crew and their families to visit Israel. This was a tour the crew was never able to make. Filming got underway this week as Stadd, Cohen and a film crew accompanied the families of the Columbia crew this past week on a tour of Israel.
"The documentary is a story of many layers. It is the story of the Rabbi struggling to help people survive the wretched conditions of Bergen-Belsen. It is the story of a young boy fulfilling his promise. It is the story of an Israeli Air Force pilot representing a small nation on a big journey. It is a story of human endurance, hope, and spirit," Cohen said. "Their stories will pull at your heart."
The story traces the trail of a small Torah scroll and the lives it touched as it traveled from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in World War II, to the hands of Israel's first astronaut Col. Ilan Ramon, who took the scroll with him aboard the Columbia Space Shuttle. Interviews were conducted with Yoya, two of the surviving daughters of the Rabbi, and a former commander and close friend of Ramon. Former Israeli Prime Minister Simon Peres, who signed the agreement with the United States to send an Israeli into space, also provided commentary for the film.
Maryland Public Television has offered to become the sponsoring station for the program on PBS. The documentary is being filmed in High Definition Television. For more information about film content, contact Dan Cohen at 301.681.0840 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or to send a contribution, contact Elizabeth Eisenstat Wagner at 800-691-4000 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Due to tremendous support by the Israeli Space Agency, NASA, and the family and friends of Ilan Ramon, interest in the project and contributions have increased tremendously since filming began in Israel.
West Street Productions contact: Dan Cohen firstname.lastname@example.org or 301.681.0840
More information about the documentary can be read in this week's Space News: