As the Chief Rabbi of Holland died, he pressed a Torah scroll, no taller than four and a half inches, firmly into Joachim Joseph's hand, commanding him to keep it and always tell its story.
The rabbi, Simon Dasberg, had smuggled the tiny Torah into the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Young Joachim read from it during his bar mitzvah in the camp.
The coming of age ritual had been performed secretly in the early dawn hours with improvised candle light and “congregants” closely watching the door for patrolling SS guards.
Now Rabbi Dasberg lay dying in front of the boy, urging him to protect the scroll in the hopes that he and the Torah would one day survive the horrors of the Holocaust.
Joachim survived, and kept his promise.
More than five decades later, Joachim was the old man urging a young man to take the tiny Torah. This young man was the world’s first Israeli astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon.
Joachim was passionate that the Torah go into space with Ilan as “a symbol of how a person can go from the depths of hell to the heights of space.”
Col. Ramon agreed to take it. He was one of seven astronauts on space shuttle Columbia. The image shows Ilan holding the tiny Torah given by Rabbi Dasberg to young Joachim.
Tragically Col. Roman and the tiny Torah did not return from space. On the morning of February 1, 2003, Columbia shattered upon reentry. It was a tragic moment for space exploration, Israel, America, and the holy artifact that had crossed oceans, survived the worst evil, and ascended into the heavens themselves.
I struggle with the meaning of this tale. As a filmmaker, I would want the Torah that helped Joachim cling to life somehow survive the dangerous space mission and help the astronauts to survive too.
Its destiny, however, lay elsewhere. Perhaps its ability to inspire passed from the hands of one man holding the physical scroll to all people who honor its memory by shining a light into our darkest places, and thereby treasuring life itself.
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