World ORT is helping the Israeli city of Kiryat Yam reach for the stars by providing a planetarium, an integral part of the $18 million Alex and Betty Schoenbaum Science, Educational, Cultural and Sports Campus.
NASA astronaut Timothy Creamer, who spent nearly half of last year aboard the International Space Station, joined the opening ceremony of the Margot and Jozef Rethazy Planetarium Building this week together with local dignitaries and a crowd of excited schoolchildren.
Inside the planetarium, one of only three in Israel, a memorial to Israeli astronaut Colonel Ilan Ramon was unveiled. The ceremony coincided with the Ilan Ramon Science and Space Memorial Seminar, which World ORT’s representative office in Israel stages on the anniversary of his death in the Columbia shuttle disaster.
“There were no survivors,” the memorial reads. “However, Ilan Ramon’s spirit remains alive within every boy and girl who has an interest in space.”
The vitality of that spirit was displayed by a team of students from Kadoorie Agricultural College, one of dozens of schools assisted by World ORT. Earlier in the day they had won World ORT’s annual competition on science and space with research into how the sun’s activity affects the production and quality of cows’ milk.
Director of the Ramon Foundation’s Space Week Programme, Elyashiv Meller, said: “I hope that what we’ve done here will be copied throughout the country and as a result there will be more children who will take the Israeli flag into space.”
Stimulating interest in space and science is the first step in realising that hope. As Menachem Greenblum, Director General of the Ministry of Science and Technology, said: “If we want our children to major in science at high school we need to get them interested in it in early childhood. What we’re doing here is the right thing.”
The planetarium can hold 80 people at one time – 40 in reclining seats around the perimeter and another 40 on special cushions on the floor (a feature specifically designed to appeal to children).
Gazing up, visitors see stunning images of space and planets projected across the domed ceiling using NASA technology.
“It was magnificent seeing the first film showed there,” said one of World ORT’s Pedagogical Coordinators in Israel, Nechama Kenig. “The planetarium will be used by school students but we plan to have it open to the public from Pesach.”
Opening the planetarium was, according to Kiryat Yam Mayor Shmuel Sisso, a celebration of curiosity, that essential human characteristic which had precipitated countless inventions and discoveries throughout history and was now propelling space travel in search of creative solutions to terrestrial challenges.
It was also, Mayor Sisso said, “another brick in the building of future scientific and technological research in Israel generally and in the northern region in particular”.
“Ilan Ramon wrote that the education of youth about space was intertwined with the future of space exploration because such exploration will be solely in the hands of today’s young people,” Mayor Sisso said. “Today is an opportunity for us to experience the realisation of this important project, this ‘Science City’. Who knows, perhaps one of you sitting here will be Israel’s next astronaut ”
This inspirational communal resource has been named after the late Margot and Jozef Rethazy of Hamilton, Ontario in recognition of their generous support for World ORT’s Schulich Canada Smart Classroom Initiative. The initiative is helping Israel catch up with other OECD countries by introducing Interactive Whiteboards to schools across the country.
“From the depth of the Holocaust inferno that brought them to the gas chambers, which they miraculously survived, the Rethazys beyond their lifespan are making a great contribution to the education and upbringing of Israel’s children, making them proud and constructive citizens of our beloved Medinat Yisrael,” said Kurt Rothschild, on behalf of Rabbi Morton Green who was responsible for securing the Rethazys’ bequest for ORT Toronto.
“I pay tribute to World ORT for providing excellent trade education,” Mr Rothschild added. “And I applaud you for putting the Rethazys’ bequest to such constructive purpose.”
World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer thanked ORT Toronto for facilitating “this wonderful opportunity for the people of Kiryat Yam and surrounding communities”.