When I read the news this morning on the oil spill in the Gulf, I was reminded how current events have influenced my writing.
In 2003, I was in Israel just before the launch of the space shuttle Columbia, and the Israeli press was full of articles on Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli Astronaut. On my return to the United States, I read a short story in the LA Times about the little Torah that Ilan had taken on the shuttle and contacted Professor Joseph to whom it belonged. By email, I asked him to allow me to write a children’s story about it. When he agreed, I was thrilled.
This was almost a week prior to the crash. However, at the time of the crash, I shelved the project. I wasn’t sure how to approach this difficult subject in a way that would be appropriate for children.
I spoke to some of the Rabbis in our community and finally to the professor. Everyone felt it was a story that should be told, in spite of the difficult subject matter. I embarked on a journey, researching the Torah’s owner, Rabbi Simon Dasberg, chief Rabbi of Amsterdam. I contacted the Bergen Belsen memorial and found out about the horrors of this particular camp where he and his wife and one child perished.
The professor shared his Bar Mitzvah experience in the camp with me, and also, his close friendship with Ilan Ramon and the other astronauts.
What evolved is a beautiful story of human courage, love and kindness, the central teaching of the Torah. Reach for the Stars, A Little Torah’s Journey (Pitspopany 2004) is sad story, but at the same time, uplifting. Every character in the story is a wonderful role model for children as well as adults.
In the years since, I have had the privilege of personally visiting Professor Joseph and Rabbi Dasberg’s daughters in Israel.