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Sunset at Noon

Eytan Kobre

Physicist Dr. Yisrael Ury missed the last total eclipse of the sun, when Hawaii’s skies clouded over. He’s not going to let this one get away

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

 Mishpacha image

COVER UP This summer’s total solar eclipse — during which the moon, from the earth’s vantage point, will completely cover the sun, leaving the sun’s tenuous outermost atmosphere, the corona, visible in a ring around the darkened ball — will be visible only to observers situated within a swath of territory several dozen miles wide cutting across the United States, which will be under the moon’s shadow, or umbra, during the eclipse (Photos: Lior Mizrachi)

C ome August 21 at precisely 1:06 p.m. Central Daylight Time, Ramat Beit Shemesh resident Dr. Yisrael Ury hopes to make good on a quest that’s 26 years in the making: to witness a total solar eclipse, which he calls “one of the greatest, and rarest, of G-d’s wonders that are visible in our world.”

Early in the summer of 1991, Dr. Ury, who holds a doctorate in applied physics, was attending a technical conference in Japan on behalf of the fiber optics company he had founded. Given his scientific training, he’d always had an interest in cameras, telescopes, and the like, and upon learning that a total eclipse of the sun was to take place on July 11 of that year, he decided that on the way back to Los Angeles, where he was living at the time, he’d make a detour to Hawaii, a prime spot for viewing the event.

“When I landed at 3:30 a.m. at the international airport in Hilo, on the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, I found myself in the midst of a torrential downpour. Somehow, I found a meteorologist who told me to head for the western side of the island, where I’d find dry weather. When I got there, I found others already camped out on the beach awaiting the big moment, but as the time of the eclipse drew nearer, the sky grew ever cloudier, until the sun withdrew from view entirely. The moment had come, and gone. Later, I learned that back at the airport, the view was clear.”

Now retired from his business and a grandfather many times over, Reb Yisrael is determined not to let this one get away — weather permitting, of course. He’ll be traveling from Eretz Yisrael — where he and his wife, Gittie, settled nine years ago — to St. Joseph, Missouri. There he’ll be meeting up with Fishel Gross of Baltimore’s O’Fishel Catering, for the start of a two-day experience he’ll be leading called Kosher Eclipse — Yisrael in charge of the astronomical, Fishel the gastronomical — for upwards of 200 frum Jews, ranging from veteran stargazers to the scientifically clueless. Joining them will be prominent Baltimore rav and expert in all matters calendrical, Rabbi Dovid Heber, who will deliver several shiurim on how halachah intersects with the eclipse.

Growing up in L.A., Yisrael Ury (R) had the twin role models of Rosh Yeshivah Rav Simcha Wasserman (L) and his own father, master educator Rabbi Zalman Ury. Today the approach he acquired is helping others “with no need for special tools — just a piece of paper, a pencil, and a good eraser”

This summer’s total solar eclipse — during which the moon, from the earth’s vantage point, will completely cover the sun, leaving the sun’s tenuous outermost atmosphere, the corona, visible in a ring around the darkened ball — will be visible only to observers situated within a swath of territory several dozen miles wide, cutting across the United States, which will be under the moon’s shadow, or umbra, during the eclipse. Over a year ago, the Urys made an exploratory trip to a part of Missouri that sits squarely within this swath, and chose to hold Kosher Eclipse’s activities in the conference center in St. Joseph for its proximity to both the airport and the Orthodox Jewish community in the Overland Park suburb of Kansas City. At a National Guard airport just a few miles away, a group of thousands will be viewing the spectacle guided by a senior editor of Astronomy magazine, who chose that location for its expected good weather.

Although at this point the forecast is for an 80 to 85 percent likelihood of clear skies, reservations for Kosher Eclipse come with a disclaimer of responsibility in the event the elements don’t cooperate. Should that happen, participants will have to console themselves with the knowledge that another chance will come on April 8, 2024, when a total solar eclipse will next be visible in North America. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 673)

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