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Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Toto, We're Not in Kansas Anymore"

Map of USA with Kansas highlightedImage via WikipediaPeople from Kansas do not find this line funny. I had the opportunity to discover this myself when I went star gazing with two groups from the Kansas Jewish Federation last week. The first group was the leadership group of the Jewish Federation and the second was the Federation group itself. I had been scheduled to do a star tour for the second group but was called by Ken Sonnenschein of the leadership group when he got to Mitzpe Ramon looking for a green laser pointer. Ken is an amateur astronomer in his own right and was scheduled to do his own star tour with his group in Mitzpe Ramon. I rounded up a green laser pointer for Ken and helped him find a site suitable for doing star gazing with a large number of people. I had been struggling with this myself, since I was to do my own tour with the second Federation group later that week. I usually go out with smaller groups of 2-12, but this was to be a group of around 40. I finally decided to give the natural amphitheater behind Har Gamal a try. It looks out on a precipitous drop of 750 feet into the crater, protected only by a green guard rail. Of course, at night you can't tell this, which is probably just as well. It's not as dark as my regular observing site, but it works well for large groups who can sit on the curved amphitheater rocks and look down on a roman-style amphitheater stage. I've always wanted to produce Shakepspeare here in the summer, but star shows at night are just as good, especially when I get to take center stage and do my own.

Ken had prepared a very nice star show complete with his own d'var torah on "ein mazal l'Yisrael" (the saying that "Jewish destiny is not controlled by the stars") and pointing out that at critical points in Jewish history the Jews are shown the stars, yet their destiny transcends the controlling force of the stars, or nature and necessity. ("Everything is foreseen; yet free will is given," R. Akiva, Pirke Avot).

Aged, childless Avram is taken outside by G-d at the Brit Bein Ha'Besorim and shown the stars which represent his numerous unborn descendants; his name changed to Avraham he escapes his natural destiny of dying childless and has Yitzchak. Joseph dreams of sun, moon and stars bowing down to him and thwarts his jealous brothers attempts to keep it from coming true; the Jews are miraculously rescued from unescapable Egypt "va'yehi b'chatzi ha'lylah" - "and it was in the middle of the night". Moses is shown the moon in Egypt and told by G-d, "This month shall be for you the first of the months of the year..." and the Jewish calendar is born, depending on human observation and testimony, not celestial mechanics. And so on...

I was on-hand to point out a few extra celestial wonders to Ken and the group, but he did well on his own. The following Saturday night I took out the second Kansas group. We managed to get everyone out to the amphitheater, including one gentleman who walked with a cane due to a hip replacement problem. No one fell into the Machtesh! It was cold that night, the wind blew hard, and my ears ached from it a few days after. Most of the group escaped before I could get a photo of them in situ, but I caught up with them later at the CafeNeto where we took this picture.

A few members of the Kansas Jewish Federation leadership group. Ken Sonnenschein to my left.

By the time you read this, they will be back in Kansas, Toto.

Keep on lookin' up!


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1 comment:

  1. I love astronomy. Love watching stars in sky. Thay are so amazing that I believe I can not live with them.
    _______
    Astronomy Laser

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