Physics professor's Torah reached for the stars during space shuttle flight of Atlantis

Henry Fenichel speaks at Xavier about science, faith, history and humanity | February 1, 2010

Henry Fenichel, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Cincinnati, is speaking at 7:00 p.m. today, Feb. 1, at Xavier about the Torah he sent into space aboard the space shuttle Atlantis in 2006 and its connection to the Holocaust.

“Reach for the Stars: An evening of science, faith, history and the human person,” is the topic of Fenichel’s talk today in the Lindner Family Physics Building on campus. The presentation is free and open to the public. The event takes place on the seventh anniversary of the disintegration of the Columbia space shuttle during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, 16 minutes prior to its scheduled landing on Feb. 1, 2003. All crew members perished.

Fenichel is sharing his story about the Torah, his unique background as a Holocaust survivor and his connection to astronaut Ilan Ramon, a crew member of Columbia. Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut and the son and grandson of Holocaust survivors, carried a number of Holocaust artifacts aboard the Columbia, including a small Torah.

The Torah was given to Ramon by his mentor and friend, astrophysicist Joachim Joseph, who was a Holocaust survivor from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. A Rabbi at the camp gave Joseph the Torah so he could tell their story if he survived. The Rabbi died in the camp, but Joseph survived and sent the Torah with Ramon on the Columbia.

Ramon also took a pencil sketch by a 14-year-old boy who died in Auschwitz. The boy's sketch of the earth as if viewed from the Moon disintegrated along with the Torah in the Columbia disaster.

Fenichel had collected his own Holocaust artifacts, including a yellow “Jude” star and a small Torah scroll given him by a cousin who escaped Nazi Germany. The Torah was almost identical to Ramon’s. Fenichel allowed his Torah scroll to be taken on the Atlantis space shuttle mission in September 2006 in memory of Ramon.

"The Torah represents the survival of the Jewish people, the ability to rise from the depth of despair in the Holocaust and reach for the stars. It symbolizes a hopeful promise for a new beginning and a shining example of respect between cultures and religions," Fenichel said.

In a part of Ramon’s diary that survived the disaster, he wrote, “From space our world looks as one entity with no borders. Let's work for peace and a better life for everyone on Earth."