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In first, Israeli spacecraft set for trip to the moon

Save the date. On 13 February 2019, an Israeli-built unmanned spacecraft is expected to land on the moon, having blasted off from Earth two months earlier, project managers said at a news conference on Tuesday.

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STUART WINER AND SHOSHANNA SOLOMON

If all goes well, the SpaceIL spider-like craft will give Israel entry into the exclusive club of just three nations which have so far achieved a controlled landing on the moon’s surface.

The probe will be launched sometime in December from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, officials said during the media event, held at an Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) space technology site in Yehud. It is scheduled to land on 13 February 2019.

The project, begun seven years ago as part of a Google technology contest to land a small probe on the moon, was conducted together with IAI.

“We will put the Israeli flag on the moon,” said Ido Anteby, the CEO of SpaceIL, a non-profit organisation dedicated to landing the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon.

“As soon as the spacecraft reaches the landing point, it will be completely autonomous,” Anteby said. “The motor will brake the craft, and it will reach the ground at zero speed for a soft landing.

“In the first stage, the Israeli flag will be put on the moon. During the landing, the craft will photograph the landing area with stills and video, and will even record itself.”

The spacecraft will carry out a Weizmann Institute of Science experiment to measure the moon’s magnetic field, finishing its mission within two days.

SpaceIL’s vehicle is just 2m in diameter and 1.5m tall standing on its four legs. It weighs 600kg, making it the smallest craft to touchdown on the moon.

Israeli billionaire philanthropist and SpaceIL president Morris Kahn, who donated $27 million (R361 million) to the project, told a gathering of journalists: “We are making history.”

The idea, he said, is to inspire youth in Israel to take up science studies and to have the same impact that the Apollo lunar mission had in 1969, when astronauts landed on the moon, with people remembering forever where they were on that day.

“This is a tremendous project,” Kahn said. “When the rocket is launched into space, we will all remember where we were when Israel landed on the moon.”

The Israeli government has promised to fund 10% of the project, he said, but the money still has to come. “The government should recognise that space is very important for the future,” he said.

“This is national history,” said IAI director Yossi Weiss. “The path to the moon is not easy. It is a very complicated route.

“The co-operation between SpaceIL and IAI is an example of the amazing abilities that can be reached in civil space activities – activities that combine education, technology, industry, knowledge and a lot of initiative.”

Whereas other previous moonshot spacecraft have taken just days to reach their target, SpaceIL will be fired into an elliptical orbit to gradually bring it closer to the moon, a journey that will take two months but will save on carrying the fuel needed for a quicker passage.

Even so, the craft will travel at a speed that is 13 times faster than the maximum speed of an F-15 fighter jet, steering itself to the moon, which is 384 000km from Earth – about 10 times the distance between Earth and communication satellites orbiting it. Through its elliptical journey, the Israeli spacecraft will cover nine million kilometres, the project managers said.

The Falcon 9 launch rocket’s primary load will be a much larger communications satellite.

The craft itself – the same one that will land on the moon – was displayed in a so-called “clean room” on site. Journalists and visitors had to don white robes and hats and cover their shoes before accessing the space. Shiny gold insulating paper covered its spider-like legs. The gold paper will cover the whole of the craft once it is finally ready, the creators said.

The spacecraft’s design and development is all Israeli, the organisers explained.

The fuel is contained in balloon-like devices within the lightweight metal frame of the craft, with one engine at its centre and smaller engines on the side. The craft is equipped with solar panels, avionics, electronics and a control system – all of which were developed in Israel. It is also equipped with cameras and communication equipment so it can continuously be in touch with its operators on Earth.

The project is making “the moon reachable, which it never was before”, said IAI’s Weiss at the event. “Going to the moon was a hugely expensive government-run mission. And this is going to be the first privately run mission to the moon.”

This is the first time an enterprise, not a country, has gone to the moon at a reasonable cost, and it is “going to show the way for the rest of the world on how space is much more than just satellites”.

Humanity is looking for ways to make it easier to get to the moon and other planets, he said, and this mission paves the way for that.

In the coming months, the spacecraft will undergo a series of intensive checks and tests at IAI, including with the use of simulators, to prove that it will withstand the launch, flight and landing conditions, said SpaceIL’s Anteby at the event. In November, the spacecraft will be sent to Cape Canaveral to ready it for the launch in December.

SpaceIL began in 2011 when engineers Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub decided to compete in the Google Lunar XPRIZE, an international contest with a $20 million (R268 million) prize for the first privately funded team that puts a small, mobile craft on the moon.

Although the Google contest was eventually scrapped in March 2018 after none of the teams managed to launch their probes before the deadline, the SpaceIL group kept going with its project, gaining funding from various donors, including Kahn and the Adelson family.

In total, the project has cost $95 million (R1.3 billion).

Only three countries have made soft landings of craft on the moon: Russia, the US and China. The Russians were first in February 1966 with their Luna 9 probe, followed by the US in June 1966 with Surveyor 1, and then the Chinese with the Chang’e 3 craft in 2013. Other countries have succeeded in crashing scientific probes into the surface.

Only the US has landed people on the moon, with the first human steps on the surface taken by Neil Armstrong on 21 July 1969, when he famously declared: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

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World news in brief

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Antwerp mayor warns rule flouting triggers antisemitism

The mayor of Antwerp, a city in Belgium where about 15 000 haredi Orthodox Jews live, warned that their failure to comply with COVID-19 measures has triggered some antisemitism, and it could turn into a wave.

“In the Jewish community, not everyone realises this, they have their own logic, but the backlash of public opinion that I see in my inbox, it’s terrible,” Bart De Wever, a right-wing politician who has enjoyed good relations with his city’s Jewish community, told the ATV station on Sunday, 24 January. “If we really want to move towards a wave of antisemitism, this is the way to go.”

His statement followed the two-week shutdown of a Belz synagogue by the Hasidic sect’s leaders in Antwerp. Police had determined that the shul on Van Spangen Street was twice in violation of emergency measures that forbid group prayer but allow individual worship.

Antwerp police have tolerated minyans, but have intervened when they were exceeded.

Legislators criticise Israel for not vaccinating Palestinians

Joaquin Castro, a top foreign policy Democrat in the United States House of Representatives, has joined a handful of other Democrats in criticising Israel for not supplying Palestinians with the coronavirus vaccine.

“I commend Israel for leading the world on vaccinating its people, but I’m disappointed and concerned by its government’s exclusion of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation from these vaccination efforts, despite making COVID-19 vaccines available to Israeli settlers in the West Bank,” Castrol, of Texas, told Ha’aretz this week.

A number of other Democrats, including Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Jamaal Bowman of New York, and Marie Newman of Illinois have also criticised Israel for excluding the Palestinians.

Israel says it isn’t required to vaccinate West Bank Palestinians under international law and prior agreements with the Palestinians.

Israeli museum accused of smuggling artifacts out of Warsaw

The City of Warsaw has accused an Israeli Holocaust museum of smuggling Jewish prayer artifacts out of Poland that the museum said were found inside an old bunker in the Polish capital.

The Shem Olam museum near Hadera announced this week that it had obtained 10 sets of tefillin found by construction workers in Warsaw near the entrance to a bunker dug by Jewish fighters in preparation for the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The City of Warsaw has no knowledge of the find, said spokesperson Karolina Gałecka. If Shem Olam was telling the truth about what it obtained and where, “a crime has occurred” because Poland requires anyone who finds archaeological items to report their discovery to the authorities.

Rabbi Avraham Krieger, Shem Olam’s director, said Judaica artifacts, including from the Warsaw Ghetto, are widely available for sale in Polish antique stores and online.

Leifer finally extradited to Australia

Malka Leifer has boarded a plane from Israel en route to Australia where she faces 74 charges of child sexual abuse.

Leifer fled to Israel from Australia in 2008 amid allegations that she had sexually abused students when she was the principal at the Adass Yisroel School in Melbourne. In 2014, Australia filed a formal extradition request, but Israeli authorities deemed her unstable and unfit for extradition.

After an investigation showed she was living a normal life, she was rearrested in 2018, and last year, an Israeli panel cleared her for extradition.

Leifer’s departure from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport came shortly before the country was due to ground all flights for at least a week to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Israelis torch bus in protest against COVID-19 restrictions

A mob of Orthodox Jews torched a bus in Israel after beating the bus driver amid ongoing riots protesting the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Police officers in other cities were also injured during riots in Orthodox neighbourhoods, where COVID-19 rates have spiked but residents object to lockdown restrictions.

The bus burning in Bnei Brak on Sunday, 24 January, a largely haredi or ultra-Orthodox city near Tel Aviv, came days after rioters there injured seven police officers in clashes last week. Police have sought to close haredi schools and other institutions, which has sparked a violent backlash from protesters.

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Index cards of Dutch Holocaust victims to be made public

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(JTA) Sonja Levy was a positive person who made an excellent first impression and whose important position exempted her from deportation, according to the personal card that the Jewish Council of Amsterdam made for her during the Nazi occupation.

But the accolades on the card weren’t enough to save Levy, a kindergarten teacher who was in her early 20s when the Germans invaded.

Like more than 100 000 Dutch Jews, she was eventually put on a train to the death camps in occupied Poland, and murdered there in a gas chamber.

On Monday, the ownership of her personal card – it turned out to be her first epitaph – was handed over to the main museum of the community to which she belonged.

Ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday, 27 January, the Netherlands branch of the Red Cross has transferred to the Jewish Cultural Quarter of Amsterdam ownership of more than 140 000 personal cards of Dutch Jews that are to be displayed to the public for the first time. The Jewish Cultural Quarter is an umbrella organisation of several Jewish institutions including the National Holocaust Museum of the Netherlands.

The entire index of the Jewish Council of Amsterdam, a body that the Nazis set up to have Jews oversee preparations for the extermination of their own minority throughout the Netherlands, is among the most comprehensive and best-kept registries of its kind anywhere in Europe.

It’s unusual in that it includes references to status and personal traits, reflecting how this registry, unlike most other Nazi lists, was made by for Jews by Jews.

In more than 75% of the cards, the Red Cross after World War II added the date of deportation in red ink, a rare tangible reminder of how in the Netherlands, the Nazis achieved their highest death rate anywhere in occupied Western Europe. Of about 110 000 Jews deported, only a few thousand survived.

The Red Cross has transferred its entire wartime archives to the Dutch National Archives, except for the Jewish Council’s index card archive. On Monday, the Red Cross transferred ownership of the archive to the National Holocaust Museum, which is undergoing renovations. The index will go on display next year when the museum reopens, the Red Cross said.

The index “is of great value not only as an archive, but also as a museum monument and a tangible reminder of the Holocaust”, the Red Cross wrote.

The cards were digitised in 2012, and made available for viewing online upon request for a name or other identifying details. But browsing the cards hasn’t been possible. The National Holocaust Museum of the Netherlands is now designing the cards’ display ahead of the reopening, but they will be visible for all to see, according to Emile Schrijver, the director of the Jewish Cultural Quarter.

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Bernie Sanders has his most viral week ever

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(JTA) Bernie Sanders was everywhere on James Corden’s late night show set on Thursday, 21 January.

Life-sized cardboard cut-outs of the Jewish senator in his now famous inauguration ceremony pose – hands and legs crossed, slightly crumpled in his chair, wearing a pair of fawned-over mittens – sat behind a synthesiser next to the house band, behind the bar for guests, and scattered throughout the practically non-existent audience.

“Speaking of breakout stars of the inauguration, we have another one with us in the studio,” Corden said, barely holding in his laughter.

It was a fitting indication of just how ubiquitous Sanders’ image was in pop culture and for the eyeballs of social media this week. No regular Instagram or Twitter user could have scrolled through their feeds since the presidential inauguration on Wednesday, 20 January, without seeing the mittened Sanders, usually in meme form, with humorous accompanying text, often comparing him to cranky relatives and the like.

Many employed Jewish humour along the way.

Then came the photoshop phenomenon. Social media users began splicing the Sanders’ silhouette into other photos of people and places all over the world, even into screen shots from movies and TV shows.

Our sister site Alma, not content with one long slideshow of Bernie memes on Instagram, posted three sets of Bernie photoshopped into everything from Fiddler on the Roof to When Harry Met Sally, to a Haim music video.

The meme deluge became so unrelenting, some were fatigued with the image by Friday.

An entire market of merchandise inspired by the image has quickly sprouted. The National Museum of Jewish History in Philadelphia is hawking “bundled up Bernie mugs” and more. Designers are incorporating it into their work on Etsy. Sanders’ own online store is now selling a sweatshirt with the image, and donating all of the proceeds to Meals on Wheels Vermont. Even the progressive magazine Jewish Currents has its own “Bernie merch”.

“The mug for a bris, a shiva, a long line at Zabar’s, a protracted and infuriating call with your insurance provider. This isn’t an endorsement of anything other than sitting like this,” the magazine tweeted.

As with most random internet phenomena, there’s no firm answer as to why the image went viral. Sanders has been a social media star before, most notably for the memes based on his December 2019 presidential campaign advert, in which the progressive legislator asks his supporters “once again” for donations.

But this photo seemed to capture the essence of Sanders’ public persona as the nation’s grumpy grandfather – and a Jewish one at that, with Ashkenazi features and an unmistakable Brooklyn accent. His homemade wool mittens, a symbol of Sanders’ Vermont style and his repudiation of anything fancy, also fit just a little too perfectly with a senator known for his rants about income inequality. (The gloves have a heartwarming backstory involving a public-school teacher that only helped fuel the fire.)

The intensity of the political moment, charged into a new gear after the deadly insurrection at the Capitol – especially for Jews, newly frightened by the display of antisemitism at the right-wing riot – probably had something to do with it too. The country, one could argue, was primed for a feel-good meme sensation. As a Refinery29 writer put it, the inauguration was, for the majority of liberal-leaning America, a “sigh of relief”.

Alma’s Emily Burack wrote, “As an Ashkenazi Jew with grandparents from Brooklyn, it’s hard not to feel a kindred spirit in Bernie. And in a year – well, in the past four years, really – when we’ve dealt with a rise in antisemitism, the worst antisemitic attack in American history, and an emboldened faction of white supremacists, the undeniable grumpy Jewishness of Bernie offers a real sense of catharsis.”

Writer Amanda Silberling tweeted that the memes “offered American Jews a chance to heal from the rampant antisemitism in the news cycle”.

A large part of Sanders’ appeal to his progressive fans has always been his stubborn focus on substantive policy debate and his impatience with the fluff of pop culture. As Refinery29 continued, the cross-legged Sanders photo captured that ethic perfectly.

“He has things to do and places to be. His demeanour is unsentimental, unmoved, and largely unbothered,” Michelle Santiago Cortes wrote.

Sanders’ comic response to the phenomenon was a TikTok video that expressed just that. Its caption, “Fashion? Let’s get to work.” The video showed a clip of him responding to a question about the photo on a news show and what he had “in mind” at the time of the shot.

“Two thousand dollars per adult. That’s what the Senate has got to do,” he replies, referring to the debate over how much money the next COVID-19 stimulus relief should include.

But Sanders eventually did have some sense of humour about the whole thing. The timing of the shot, taken as the country watched Joe Biden become president, prompted inevitable musings as to whether Bernie truly was cranky about the event, especially after coming so close to winning the Democratic nomination last year. Sanders, a long-time friend of Biden’s, dispelled those thoughts in an appearance on Late Night With Seth Meyers on Thursday night.

“I was just sitting there, trying to keep warm, paying attention to what’s going on,” he said to Meyers with a smile.

As the Biden era begins without the prospect of a President Sanders and subsequently no pressing need for Larry David to portray Sanders on Saturday Night Live, could this be the end of Sanders’ pop culture stardom?

As one Twitter user wrote, “If @nbcsnl doesn’t have Larry David dressed as @SenSanders in the background of every skit this weekend … then I don’t want it.”

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