Mort Laitner

Beresheet: A eulogy and a lesson learned

Staring at the photo of the moonscape, I saw Israeli dust resting on to the lunar surface.

I prayed, “From dust you were taken, for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)

I remembered the afternoon Connie and I watched Beresheet’s attempted soft lunar landing.

I recalled my pride on seeing the last beautiful close-up photograph Beresheet captured of some craters.

When the scientists announced the hard landing, my excited heart crashed into the pit of my stomach.

When the Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

I cried.

When I sat shiva for Beresheet, I asked, “What are the lessons learned from this science project?”

Now months after the crash landing, I analyzed my feelings and reached a futuristic conclusion.

I knew the scientists had drafted their blue books on the factors of failure.

But I also knew that only the poets and writers can capture the essence of this experiment on the Israeli and Diaspora’s psyche.

The joy, the sadness, the humor, and the tears captured in word pictures.

A religion and a nation falling in love with a refrigerator-sized spacecraft as if it were a family member.

As Jews and Israelis wrote online eulogies in honor of this four-legged robot.

I realized that in the future robots will win our trust, faith, love and admiration.

And we will convert these robots to Judaism.

Then I recalled my Beresheet journey.

Two weeks earlier

I met Connie at the JCC’s coffee shop. As Leonard Cohen sang “Hallelujah” in the background, we hugged tightly, smiled broadly and sipped sweet coffee.

Connie is a proud American Zionist. She schmoozes in seven languages—sports, movies, politics, history, literature, Israel and Jewish humor.

I can still remember how she jumped when Israel shot its first rocket into space. Her bagel flipped off her plate and hard landed on the floor.

“Connie, we are blessed!”

“A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket heads to the moon carrying an Israeli spacecraft.”

“We live in an age of miracles, an epoch of incredulity. These are the best of times!”

“Mort, this morning, I already shared that article on Facebook. The spacecraft’s name is “Beresheet” which means ‘In the beginning…’

“The first words in the Bible are ascending into the heavens.”

“Tiny Israel — not England, not France, not Germany, not Japan — could be the fourth country in the world to soft land a spacecraft on the moon. First there were the three super powers — the U.S.A, the Soviet Union and then China. It’s David verses a bunch of Goliaths. Who would have thought — a country born in 1948 — landing a five foot high, 1,300 pound satellite on the moon. It’s unbelievable. Israel climbs onto the Space Race Olympics platform.”

“Netanyahu, and the whole SpaceIL team were up at 3:45 am Israeli time to cheer the Cape Canaveral launch.”

“When it soft lands, a whole nation is going to be moonstruck. A whole nation will howl at the Moon, ‘La Bella Luna!’”

“Connie, all I can say is wow! An Israeli lunar lander, bearing a Israeli flag, crawling around the surface of the moon. I wonder if the lander has a boom box on it, so it can play ‘Hatikvah’ or ‘Hava Nagila.’”

Connie laughed.

“I got a great name for the lander.”

“I’ll bite. What is it?” Connie asked.

“The Holy Lander.”

“Cute. What else you got?

“You know when the lander rolls and wanders on the surface of the Moon, it will be a Holy Roller.”

“Mort, enough of your shtick. I thought you were going to say, ‘The Wandering Jew.’”

We both laughed.

“Do you think Israeli engineers placed good luck charms on the spacecraft?” I asked.

“They better have. They’ll need all the good luck they can get. A thousand things can go wrong. It’s almost a mission impossible.”

“A mezuzah or a Hamsa might keep the evil eye off of the mission. Maybe the two of us talking about it curses the mission. Maybe we shouldn’t.”

“Pooh, pooh, pooh that is the protection Beresheet needs from the evil eye. The Torah says, ‘People who are scrupulous in the performance of mitzvahs are blessed with good things.’”

“Will rabbis require the lunar lander to have a mezuzah nailed to its doorposts?” Connie asked.

“Sure, why not? Haven’t you touched a car mezuzah?” I answered.

“I wonder if a mini robot will exit the lander and plant an Israeli flag on the moon?”

“It is going to send back images of the rocky surface, so maybe we’ll see a selfie of your little robot.” Connie replied.

I laughed.

“Connie, I see you holding your JCC cup, I got an idea. Coffee mugs emblazoned with a picture of Beresheet with its four legs dug into the Sea of Tranquility and under the image the words, ‘In the beginning…’”

“Mort, I love the idea! Let’s print it on T-shirts.”

“Connie, these are the best of times.”

“Mort, remember we live in a Dickensian paradox. A pessimist would say, ‘We live in the worst of times—anti-Semitism on the rise, Charlottesville, Squirrel Hill, swastikas painted on grave stones, BDS, rock-throwing Palestine’s and Iranian death threats.’”

“Connie, best of times or worst of times, I can’t wait until April 11 when Beresheet lands on the Moon.”

“On April 11, Israel becomes a nation of ‘lunatics.’”

“Mort, Israelis have been saying that for seven decades.”

“Connie, let’s watch the landing together. Mark it on your calendar. But this time, you won’t be holding a bagel when Beresheet lands.”

“It will be almost as exciting—as when we were kids and we watched—Shepard’s flight into space or when Glenn’s orbited the earth or when Armstrong stepped on the moon.”

“We’ll hold our breath, sing ‘Hatikva,’ dance the Hora and say a prayer for the miracles in our lives.”

“Hallelujah!” Connie proclaimed.

Three weeks earlier

I met Connie as she trod off the treadmill.

“How many minutes?” I asked.

Huffing and puffing, Connie replied, “Thirty.”

“That’s pretty good. But have you started preparing for our Beresheet landing party on April 11th?”

“Yup, I found some noise makers and two Purim groggers for us to swing when it lands. I repainted the groggers with a picture of the landing craft on the lunar surface.”

“Wow! You’re really getting into the party spirit. Well, I ordered each of us the Beresheet T-shirts and I placed an order for a sheet cake from Publix.”

“Cool. Any words written on the cake or just a picture?” Connie inquired.

“Words and a drawing. It reads: A DREAM, A MISSION, A MIRACLE AND A NEW BEGINNING. The drawing is from the photo Beresheet shot of itself from outer space.”

“Connie, have you seen the selfie?”

“Yup, pretty cool photography— with the Earth in the background. The satellite’s plaque has the Israeli flag on it,  the words in English ‘SMALL COUNTRY, BIG DREAMS’ and in Hebrew, it says, “The people of Israel live.”

“The anti-Semites on the internet are saying the pic was photoshopped. That the whole mission is a fake.”

“You know what I say to those antisemitten?”

“Nope.” Connie replied.

“They can shove our dishwasher-sized robot up their tuchus‘—to that dark  place where the Sun and Moon don’t shine.”

Connie laughed.

“On the other hand, 99% of the online comments cheered Israel on—with congratulations and love. Those positive messages came from all around the world.”

“Connie, now you’ve become Tevya on me—with all this ‘on the other hand stuff.’”

“Mort, you know I like to look at both sides of the argument. That way you have a better chance of seeing the big picture.”

“Remember the big picture the last time we talked, we discussed good luck charms on Beresheet. Well, I read the entire manifest; I made notes on what’s on board the moon lander and in its time capsule.”

“Mort, I’m listening.”

I pulled the list out of my pocket and read:

“Three discs with 30 million pages of information including: children’s drawing of the Moon, the Torah, the recollections of a Holocaust survivor, Israeli songs, works of art, literature and photos of Israel’s landscape. a photo of Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut. He died on the fatal mission of the Columbia and one full version of all material in Wikipedia. The last item serves as a backup to humanity’s knowledge. Just in case our planet takes a hit.”

“Wait a effing minute! Do you know how many times ‘know-it-alls’ have told me never to quote Wiki because it is unreliable; now future generations of mankind and aliens are going to study Wikipedia as the knowledge base of our civilization!” Connie exclaimed.

“Yup, but on the other hand, since the space engineers didn’t put a hamsa or a mezuzah on board at least the aliens will be able to read about them on their Wiki pages.”

Connie smiled.

“Connie, two aliens meet on the Moon in the year 3019, they examine Beresheet’s time capsule. One alien voices his exasperation, ‘Meshugenahs! No Hamsas! No Mezuzahs! These primitive creatures new nothing about space travel.’”

Connie belly laughed.

“Then other alien says, ‘On the other hand, these Earthlings seem pretty smart. They knew the value of Wikipedia.’”

Connie didn’t laugh or smile but added, “You got any more?”

“Yah one more. Both aliens look quizzically at each other, one exclaims, ‘GevaltOy, vey is mir! 30 million pages of information and they forgot a recipe for gefilte fish!’”

Connie giggled.

“Now that there is going to be a digital Torah on the Moon, it’s time for the party planners to start thinking destination lunar Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.”

“Connie, talking about parties, how many people are we going to invite to our Beresheet party?”

“Mort, I thought opening it up to all the members of the JCC. We can ask them to RSVP, to get a sense of how many will show up.”

Wow! You’re really thinking big picture. Wouldn’t it be great if Temples, Hebrew Schools, Evangelical Churches and JCCs across the globe threw Beresheet landing parties.

I paused for dramatic effect.

“Well, on the other hand, that project sounds like a lot of work.”

Connie smiled and shook her head as if questioning why she even bothers talking to me.

About the Author
Florida's Jewish short-story writer, speaker, film producer and retired attorney. He has authored, "A Hebraic Obsession", "The Hanukkah Bunny" and "The Greatest Gift." He produced an award-winning short film entitled, "The Stairs". Movie can be viewed online. ChatGPT says, Mort is known for his works that often explore themes of love, loss, and the human connection. Laitner has published several books , including “A Hebraic Obsession.” His writing style is characterized by its emotional depth and introspection. Laitner’s works have garnered praise for their heartfelt expression and keen insight into the human experience. Mort is in his third year as president of the South Florida Writers Association. He was a correspondent for the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel Jewish Journal.
Related Topics
Related Posts