It was a hot summer evening in Jerusalem and my wife, Joy, and I were in Jerusalem to visit my brother, Ron, who had been living on a kibbutz in the Galilee. We’d met up with him in Jerusalem and since it was a hot summer day, we went to the Atara Cafe on Ben Yehuda street for ice cream.
Hot and hungry, I complained to the waitress that the service was slow and some of us got served while others had to wait while their ice cream melted.
“Look mister,” she reprimanded me. “It took us 2,000 years to get here and another 15 minutes won’t make any difference.”
After a while some of my brother’s friends from his kibbutz came in all excited.
“We just shot down five MiGs (actually 4 and one Sukhoi) over the Canal,” they breathlessly announced. It was the war of attrition with Egypt and this was the first report of a clash. Five Russian-built Egyptian fighter jets were downed.
After spilling out the details, as they knew them, they paused and one said, “Oh yes, the Americans landed on the moon.”
Televisions were sparse in Israel so my wife, brother and I rushed out looking for a store that might have a TV in its window where we could find out more. We finally found one and joined the crowd huddled around watching the barely discernible pictures from the moon.
As bad as that picture may have been, it was far better than anything available to us four days earlier when Apollo 11 was launched.
We were 2,583 miles away at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. We were told there were no televisions in the city and few radios. One belonged to a local doctor but he was out of town we were told. We had to wait a couple of days until we got to New Delhi and could find a newspaper.
My wife was pregnant with our first child when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. By the end of 1972 a dozen Americans had walked on the moon. Not long after the final Apollo mission in December that year I was walking with my almost-three-year-old daughter and there was a full moon. I told her to look carefully at it and she could see the man in the moon.
“No I can’t, Daddy,” she corrected me, “they just came back.”
For my daughter’s generation, space travel has been routine all her life, and her teenage daughter carries an iPhone more advanced than anything the astronauts had, allowing her to watch live broadcasts from a space station orbiting the earth. Many of today’s astronauts, including commanders and crew of the International Space Station, are women, and others are training to be the first women on the moon.
Watching the retrospectives of the Apollo 11 mission brings back the excitement, hope and pride in a nation that inspired the world and showed what could be achieved by American leadership and ingenuity, qualities that sadly seem in such short supply today in our deeply divided nation.