Unlimited skies

Like many improbable ideas, Israel sending a spacecraft to the moon was also born in a bar. In 2011, while sipping beer in a suburb of Tel Aviv, three young friends, Yonatan Winetraub, Kfir Damari and Yariv Bash, decided that all they needed to send a spacecraft to the moon was a meager $100 million dollars in donations, a team of 30 crack engineers and tens of volunteers.

Eight years later and the rest was history.  

Beresheet, English for “In the Beginning,” the first words in the Hebrew Bible, never quite completed the mission due to it crashing a hairs breadth away. Nevertheless, the enterprise not only captivated the heart of Israelis nationwide, it also caught the attention of the world: after all, the State of Israel is a fledgling 72-year old and has a population and small landmass half of that of Holland. Such a colossal mission of Hutzpah unthinkably put little Israel, “the smallest among nations,” up with the other world superpowers who had sent spacecrafts to the moon.

Dreams of going to the moon have long been in Jewish minds. In Yad Vashem, Israel’s Shoah museum, there is a painting by a 14-year old Czech artist and prodigy, Petr Ginz. Named “Moonscape,” Petr painted it while interned in the ghetto of Theresienstadt before being deported to his death at Auschwitz. The painting depicts a view of the earth from the moon, touchingly showing this young boy’s dreams of freedom. It also soberingly bears witness to just one life of extraordinary talent swallowed up in the Shoah. A copy of Moonscape was taken into space by Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut and child of Shoah survivors himself, who tragically perished on his mission.   

Since the launch of the Beresheet enterprise, the three friends have gone their separate ways. Not long after the space mission, Yariv Bash was in a terrible ski accident. Writing from a wheel chair in hospital, he famously said about his paralysis, “we shall first land a spacecraft on the moon, and then we shall deal with this issue.” Undeterred by his physical limitations, today he is working on a idea that uses drones to deliver packages. Given the situation of the word pandemic, this could be one of the most brilliant and necessary ideas of the times.

Not yet 30 at the time of the launch, Kfir Damari was always a computer Geek who didn’t understand the word “impossible.” At the tender age of eleven, dishing the mandatory homework, he had already invented his first computer virus. Unsurprisingly, seven years later the Israeli Defense Forces grabbed him for their 8200 Unit, an Intelligence Corps comprised mainly of 18–21 year olds who have an extraordinary ability of rapid adaptation and learning. For his contribution to Beresheet, Kfir was awarded to light a torch at the prestigious ceremony on Israel’s 71st Independence Day. 

Yonatan Winetraub, an eternal and unstoppable optimist,  moved to California to work on his doctorate. Taking a break from space missions, he decided to use this intermission to research early detection of cancer using a laser imaging device. 

Although circumstances have separated these three young men, it has not estranged them as friends. Regularly they chat on WhatsApp (Instant Messaging is another Israeli initiative) to goof around like young men know how to do, and yet also speak of their dreams of landing on the moon and even heading for Mars. Their stories should give us all hope. Whatever our background, qualifications or unforeseen events that could be perceived as disasters, these men teach us that it is about mind over matter: no matter where life takes us, the skies are never the limit.