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Astronaut to Bring Document to Outer Space

May 13, 2010
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Garrett Reisman
A Jewish astronaut has been chosen to bring the presidential proclamation creating Jewish American Heritage Month into space.

"The timing is perfect," Garrett Reisman told reporters during a NASA conference call, as the commemoration is marked each May.

Reisman, 42, is a mission specialist launching on May 16 aboard the Atlantis space shuttle, reported the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

After the mission, Reisman plans to turn over the document to Philadelphia's National Museum of American Jewish History. The museum's new facility is set to open near Independence Mall in November, and though the papers will not be part of the core exhibition, they will be displayed prominently somewhere in the museum.

"It will be prominently displayed because we think it's a pretty important document, and we think that the fact that it has been taken into space and returned is pretty significant," said Michael Rosenzweig, the museum's president and CEO.

He noted that Reisman was the first Jewish crew member on the International Space Station, an accomplishment that fits well in the lengthy list of achievements by American Jews; in other words, his story dovetails nicely with the museum's own themes.

Reisman echoed that sentiment, saying that he was "one of many in a long line of Jewish Americans who have been deeply involved in the space program."

He spent three months on the ISS in 2008 in a mission that coincided with Israel Independence Day. He sent a videotaped greeting to the people of Israel as the country marked its 60th anniversary.

Reisman is not the first member of the tribe to take Jewish materials into orbit; Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon took with him a mezuzah, a microfiche copy of the Torah and kosher food when he was aboard the ill-fated Columbia mission of 2003.

President George W. Bush created Jewish Heritage Month in 2006 "to celebrate the rich history of the Jewish people in America and honor the great contributions they have made to our country."

President Barack Obama is slated to host the first White House reception honoring Jewish American Heritage Month on May 27. A number of athletes, business leaders, members of Congress and more have been invited.

Groups Press to Restore Tax-Credit Funding for Certain Businesses

Jewish groups are lobbying to restore funding to a state program that allows corporations to receive tax credits for giving to selected school scholarship foundations.

The Education Improvement Tax Credit, first passed in 2001, allows firms to get tax breaks for giving to private-school scholarships, specific programs in public schools and pre-kindergarten programs as well. It has provided tuition breaks for Jewish day-school and preschool students in the Philadelphia region, as well as in Allentown and Pittsburgh.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia runs the Foundation for Jewish Day Schools, which, through the EITC program, provides needs-based scholarships for Jewish children who attend the six Federation-funded Jewish day schools in the area, as well as 20 to 30 Jewish preschools.

Last year, 380 regional students received more than $900,000 in scholarships for day schools and pre-kindergarten programs.

But also last year, the total amount of available tax credits was cut from $75 million to $60 million, due to a severe budget crisis. This year, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has proposed cutting the program by an additional $10 million.

The Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition is among groups statewide that have lobbied for the funding to be restored to 75 million. They have found at least one powerful ally in State. Rep. Keith McCall (D-District 122). The Carbon County lawmaker is the speaker of the House; he's planning to introduce a law that would restore the dollars.

The Orthodox Union's Institute for Public Affairs, a group known more for weighing in on national issues, is chiming in, too.

Howie Beigelman, a former staffer for New York Gov. George Pataki, who now oversees the Orthodox Union advocacy efforts on the state level, was in Harrisburg last week to meet with lawmakers and attend a rally at the capitol for the EITC funds.

"On the purely parochial level, it helps day schools," he said. "It helps the public schools and nonpublic schools. It makes the pie bigger and doesn't pit one side against the other." 

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