The Ramon Planetarium Center Dedicated in Kiryat Yam

The newest planetarium show in the world premiered last week in Kiryat Yam, Israel, on the occasion of the opening of The Ramon Planetarium Center, named in memory of Israeli astronaut Colonel Ilan Ramon, who lost his life in the Columbia shuttle disaster. The opening coincided with Ramon’s yahrzeit and the annual Science and Space Memorial Seminar, developed by World ORT, that also takes place on the anniversary of his death.

The seminar brings together 200 10th grade students from around the country, who are a part of the Kadima Mada school network, for a day to stimulate interest in science and space. Speaking at the event, Menachem Greenblum, Director General of the Ministry of Science and Technology, said: “If we want our children to major in science at high school we need to get them interested in it in early childhood. What we’re doing here is the right thing.”

Joining the students for the opening was NASA astronaut Timothy Creamer, who spent nearly half of last year aboard the International Space Station.

The planetarium can hold 80 people at one time – 40 in reclining seats around the perimeter and another 40 on special cushions on the floor (a feature specifically designed to appeal to children).

Gazing up, visitors see stunning images of space and planets projected across the domed ceiling using NASA technology.

The planetarium will be used by school students but the plan is to have it open to the public from Pesach.

The high energy, and interest, surrounding the seminar was also on display at the closing presentation – where you could hear a pin drop – as a team of three students from Kadoorie Agricultural College, addressed their fellow participants. Earlier in the day they had won World ORT’s annual competition on science and space with research into how the sun’s activity affects the production and quality of cows’ milk.

Astronaut Timothy Creamer and Kiryat Yam Mayor Shmuel Sisso unveil the memorial to Colonel Ilan Ramon.

The planetarium has been named after the late Margot and Jozef Rethazy of Hamilton, Ontario, in recognition of their generous support for World ORT’s Schulich Canada Smart Classroom Initiative. The initiative is helping Israel catch up with other OECD countries by introducing Interactive Whiteboards to schools across the country.

Kurt Rothschild, speaking on behalf of Rabbi Morton Green [who was responsible for securing the Rethazys’ bequest for ORT Toronto], had this to say about the Rethazy’s, “From the depth of the Holocaust inferno that brought them to the gas chambers, which they miraculously survived, the Rethazys beyond their lifespan are making a great contribution to the education and upbringing of Israel’s children, making them proud and constructive citizens of our beloved Medinat Yisrael.”

The building itself is an integral part of the $18 million Alex and Betty Schoenbaum Science, Educational, Cultural and Sports Campus that was dedicated this past October and forms the hub of an urban educational system for the use of everyone from elementary school pupils to senior citizens in and around the coastal city.

The campaign, which received a $5.3 million gift from Betty Schoenbaum, was launched by Kadima Mada in October 2007. It has also attracted funding from ORT America’s Dan Kahn, the Ministry of Education and the Kiryat Yam municipality.