I remember exactly where I was 40 years ago this morning. I was in a summer program at Hebrew College (then called Hebrew Teachers’ College) in Brookline, Massachusetts. On that Wednesday morning, July 16, 1974, we took a test and when I finished taking the test, I went out into the hallway where some other students were gathered around a radio listening to the news reports of the lift off of Apollo 11.
As I have written on many previous occasions, I was- and remain- a big fan of the space program. I remember that week in 1969 so clearly and, as can so many others I’m sure, remember so vividly the landing on the moon and the first moonwalk. Those days are indelibly etched in my mind.
As we mark this anniversary, the inevitable question comes up again: Was it worth it? Couldn’t the billions of dollars spent on space exploration have been used for more pragmatic purposes- to feed the hungry or house the homeless?
Of course, we could have found more immediate uses for the money that went into the space program. But, human beings were meant to be explorers. We were created with a thirst for knowledge and a desire to learn more about who we are and where we came from. I know that there were political issues involved in the space program for the beginning- gaining an advantage of the Soviets- but there was also a desire to learn, to understand more about the universe in which we live, to expand our horizons. We have all benefitted in so many ways from this effort and no amount of second guessing can change that.
We all decide, as nations and as individuals, how to budget our resources. What do we choose to spend money on? How do we use our energy, our talent, our intelligence and our curiosity? And as nations, those questions become even bigger: Do we choose to build or to destroy? Do we choose to elevate our goals for the good of our people and others or do we seek power and control?
When the astronauts landed on the moon in July 1974, they placed a plaque which read in part: “We came in peace for all mankind”. Whatever the lunar landing accomplished, it did not bring peace to the world and here 40 years later, those of us whose hearts and minds are connected with what is happening in Israel and Gaza know this full well. And, Israelis and Palestinians on the ground know it better than anyone.
Through all of the questions and all of the issues that this conflict raises, one which continues to arise is: Why did the Palestinians in Gaza choose to follow a path of attempting to destroy Israel rather than to build up their own state and feed and house their people? Why did they choose to use their energy, talent and intelligence to find new ways to threaten Israel rather than to attempt to build up an economy to benefit their own citizens? These questions need to be considered for all of their implications.
You know from reading my blog and other pieces that I have written that I have expressed criticism for some of Israel’s policies over the years including some of the policies relating to Gaza. I stand by those criticisms. But, it can’t be denied and it should not be forgotten that there was potential for Gaza to be turned into a peaceful, economically stronger area with self-determination and independence. It would not have been easy for sure. But, it could have been done. A different choice was made, a choice to seek to destroy rather than to build and the ramifications of that choice are still being felt today.
The beautiful pictures of the earth rising above the surface of the moon taken by the astronauts of Apollo 8 show such an inviting, peaceful place contrasting to the barrenness of the moon and the darkness of space. That picture gave us all hope but hope only becomes reality when people, all people, commit to building rather than destroying.