Bibi and the Astronaut

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu greeting astronaut Garrett Reisman and Limmud FSU co-founders Chaim Chesler and Sandra Cahn

The Prime Minister came to the GA. He was mostly applauded, but also heckled. Dr Garret Reisman, the Jewish-American Russian-speaking, New Jersey born NASA astronaut, came to the GA and wowed his audiences, wherever he spoke. And from the plenary podium, the Prime Minister invited him to make aliyah. His response, “I am indeed an astronaut, but in this case, I’ll have to consult my wife…”

Reisman was at the GA as a guest of Limmud FSU, who the night before celebrated their 5th anniversary at one of the many events that run as a side-line to the GA program. There, Reisman spoke to an engrossed audience about his service with NASA, his ties to the late Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon and his widow, Rona, and his cooperation in space with fellow astronauts from Russia.

Shortly before his meeting with the Prime Minister, I had the opportunity to catch-up with Reisman and hear more about his experiences in Russia prior to his recent space voyage. In a variation of an ulpan experience, Reisman found himself living in Moscow, immersed in a 24/7 Russian language bubble. Through intense one on one tutoring to attending cultural events, he was being prepared to interact with his fellow astronauts from Russia while living on the space station.

In a conversation at the Limmud FSU event with Natan Sharansky, Reisman mentioned his daily runs around his local area. Sharansky remarked he too had spent several years living in that exact same region. When Reisman inquired as to the where, Sharansky identified the prison he spent time in.

Bringing the conversation around to Israel, Reisman spoke with clear love of his memory of Israel’s astronaut, Ilan Ramon, z”l. The two first met in Houston many years ago as they had arrived for the same class at NASA’s training center. Ramon celebrated his first Passover seder in the U.S. together with Reisman. Following the shuttle accident, Reisman became even closer to Ramon’s family as they spent the better part of the next year together.

Reisman told me he has a foot in three worlds, Russia, Israel and America and can comfortably relate in all. Perhaps when he retires from NASA, he will take Bibi up on his offer. He will most certainly be welcome here.

Reisman was also the keynote speaker this past summer at Limmud FSU’s WestHampton New York program, just a few short months following his return from space. At the time, he remarked that he was astonished to see how the Limmud program was able to enthuse young Jewish adults and motivate them to seek out their roots.