How Current Events Have Influenced My Writing

Reach for the Stars, A Little Torah’s Journey

Written by Sylvia Rouss, in cooperation with Professor Joachim H. Joseph

A Discussion Guide



(Direct quotes from the book are  followed by discussion questions)

“It seemed like only yesterday that the little Torah was in another time and place.  It had lit up the home of Rabbi Simon Dasberg who lived in Holland with his young family.  The Rabbi often shared its stories with his children.”

  1. What Jewish religious objects do you have in your home? Do you know who they belonged to or where they came from? Do they have a special meaning to your family?
  2. Do you tell stories from the Torah in your home?  What is your favorite Torah story?

“The sound of thunderous rumbling tanks, roaring motorcycles and hundreds of marching feet made the earth tremble as the Nazis invaded the town.”

  1. What is war?  Why do wars happen?  Who fought in World War II?
  2. Who were the Nazis?  Why were the Nazis so evil? Are there still Nazis?

“Almost everything they owned would be lost, but the Rabbi took the little Torah from the shelf and placed it into his traveling case.  “I know leaving our home is difficult. Yet we still have each other. No matter what happens, remember the most important teaching of the Torah: always treat others, as you would want to be treated. Don’t let these harsh times destroy your love for others. Hold onto your dreams and reach for the stars.”

  1. Why did the Rabbi take the little Torah?  If you were being sent away, and only permitted to take one thing, what would you take?
  2. What else does the Torah teach us?

“Yoya liked to listen to the men talk about Eretz Israel. “If I leave this place, that’s where I will go,” stated a tall man with stooped shoulders.”

  1. Why did the men want to go to Israel? Have you ever been to Israel?  If yes, describe your experience.
  2. During World War II, the British ruled Eretz Israel as a colony called Palestine.  Define and discuss Zionism.

“Many nights before Yoya drifted off to sleep, he would think of the Bar Mitzvah services he had attended at the big synagogue near his home. He remembered the excitement of the young boys when they read from the Torah.”

  1. Why did Yoya want to become a Bar Mitzvah?  Do you want to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah?
  2. Do you think a Bar Mitzvah today has as much meaning as it did for Yoya?

“He tried to forget about Bergen-Belsen but the little Torah always reminded him of the promise he had made to Rabbi Dasberg.”

  1. Define and discuss the words “Holocaust” and “Shoah”.  If you were Yoya, would you want to forget your experience in World War II?
  2. What was the promise that Yoya made to Rabbi Dasberg?  Did Yoya keep his promise?

“A few weeks later, Ilan called Yoya, “I have been thinking about your little Torah ever since I saw it in your home. I was hoping that you might allow me to take it into space.””

  1. Why did Ilan want to take the Torah with him on the Shuttle Columbia?  If you were an astronaut, what would you bring on the Space Shuttle?
  2. Why did Ilan and Yoya believe that if Israel had existed at the time of World War II, the Jews of Europe wouldn’t have suffered?

“And so, on Shabbat, the journey ended for the little Torah and the seven crew members aboard the Columbia. They had reached for the stars and found heaven.”

  1. Is this a sad or happy story?
  2. How come bad things happen?

Activities for the classroom

  1. Contact the Israel Consulate and ask them to send a representative to discuss Israel and/or the life of Ilan Ramon.
  2. Ask your students to invite their grandparents or great grandparents to class to tell about their experience(s) during World War II.
  3. Invite a Jewish survivor of World War II to speak to your classroom.
  4. Taste Jaffa oranges.
  5. Compare a Bar Mitzvah today to Yoya’s Bar Mitzvah.
  6. Contact NASA and ask them to give you information on space exploration, and in particular, the Shuttle missions.
  7. Invite your Rabbi or Cantor into your classroom to discuss the question of “How come bad things happen?”
  8. Contact the Bergen-Belsen Foundation or the United State Holocaust Museum to learn more about the Holocaust.
  9. Prepare a classroom memorial program for Yom HaShoah.
  10. To understand just how long World War II was for the Jewish people of Holland, make a timeline of the last 5 years of the lives of the children in your class.