Jerusalem, Israel - Mar. 26, 2023 – The National Library of Israel (NLI) currently located in Jerusalem's Hebrew University Givat Ram Campus, received a copy of a diary logged during space missions by Astronaut Dr. Jeffrey Hoffman, the first Jewish male NASA astronaut to fly into space. The unique gift, along with other impressive items, such as patches from his five Space Shuttle flight uniforms, were presented to the NLI in a ceremony on Thursday evening, March 23, 2023.

The event opened with a short introductory film about Space Torah Project, the 25-minute documentary about how, in 1996, Hoffman brought a small Torah scroll on board Space Shuttle Columbia. On Shabbat, while orbiting Earth, he read from Bereshis, “In the beginning, G-d created the heaven and the earth.”

In the video, Dr. Hoffman explained he had no minyan, so was not saying the proper brachot, but included other appropriate ones.

Hoffman also explained to the world watching from below, how he used velcro to attach a mezuzah to his sleeping cubicle. Velcro was used to hold the yad, but for the parchment scroll, he used clamps to not damage it and to honor his tiny Torah.

For those too young to know and who do not remember, Hoffman became a NASA Astronaut in 1978. He participated in five space missions, becoming the first astronaut to log 1,000 hours of flight aboard the Space Shuttle. Dr. Hoffman performed four spacewalks, including the first unplanned contingency spacewalk in NASA’s history. From that experience, he was involved with the initial repair/rescue mission for the Hubble Space Telescope. The Torah was with him on this fifth and last mission.

NLI Rector, Shai Nitzan, opened the evening with a personal story of the 1969 Apollo lunar landing after which, he recalled the wording for Kiddush Levana was slightly changed. Only imagined before, men had reached the moon. That historic event, he said, inspired many young Israelis with the possibilities and potential of space exploration.

Dr. Hoffman spoke of his first visit to Israel in 1962, saying, "Who would have believed then that I would be here today to open the Jeffrey Hoffman archive?" He expressed his gratitude at being able to share knowledge with the widest possible audience and gave his personal thanks to educator and Space Torah Project producer Rachel Raz. "I am extremely grateful to her for sharing this story for generations – l'dor va dor."

Dr. Raquel Ukeles, Head of Collections at the National Library of Israel, spoke about the role NLI plays in the Jewish collective memory, adding that Hoffman's contribution was in line with the tradition of the earthbound travelers, adventurers, and explorers represented in NLI archives and collections, such as Napoleon, Maimonides, and Benjamin Tudela -now the first materials from space.

In concluding the program, "People make history. Books are about history. But archives are history because they preserve the records of history," said NLI Archivist Rachel Misrati, who noted the recent approach of social history that takes the stories of ordinary people into account. "These works are now recognized as a vital piece of historical documentation as they recount the personal experiences of historical events as they were happening."

One of Dr. Hoffman's cherished gifts was a book with his family's history. Now a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, Dr. Hoffman cordially spoke with admirers, young and not so young before and after the program. At the end of the evening, Dr. Hoffman and Rector Nitzan signed commemorative stamps to be included in the archive collection. 

Dr. Hoffman is currently on tour in Israel, accompanied by his wife, to share his Jewish story in the Space Torah Project which is being screened at universities, museums, and community centers.