A Saros Cycle is a period of time — roughly 18 years, 11 days, and 8 hours between the recurrent relative line-up positions of the sun, moon, and earth — that has been used since antiquity to predict eclipses.
As a teenager 54 years ago, I was privileged to see a total eclipse of the sun in Bar Harbor, Maine, that was a part of Saros Cycle #145. The appearance was spectacular. The stars came out mid-day, the temperature dropped, the birds and insects reacted – in all, an unforgettable experience. I was able to take a crude photograph (copy attached) back then with a primitive camera in which the sun appeared as a bright blur – even though covered by the moon. An image of a star (actually it was probably the planet Venus) appeared nearby in the darkened sky. (The photo does not even begin to capture the awe-inspiring feeling of the event.)
On Sunday, August 20, 2017, my wife and I traveled to St Joseph, Missouri, on the Kosher Eclipse trip sponsored by Fishel Gross of Baltimore’s O’Fishel Kosher Catering; Rabbi Dovid Heber, noted author, zmanim and astronomy expert; and Dr. Yisrael Ury, physicist and author of “Charting the Sea of Talmud.”
Over 200 from around the globe joined the trip from as far away as Los Angeles and Israel. The attendees were a wide cross section of yiddishkeit, with a broad variety of yarmulkes, sheitels (wigs), teichels (headscarves), beards, and payos evident. A number of other Silver Springers were also on the excursion, including our friend and neighbor, Jules Meisler (a former president of Young Israel Shomrai Emunah in Kemp Mill), who brought along his son Marc from Baltimore.
I was hoping to be able to share the unique experience of my youth with my wife Judy, and with four of our grandchildren: Aliza Hinda and Esther Morris (from Baltimore), Elisheva Lefkowitz (who flew up from Miami), and Reuven Dovid Lefkowitz (a student at Ner Yisroel). The eclipse of 2017 was even a part of the very same Saros Cycle – #145 – as the one I had witnessed in 1963 in Bar Harbor.
The trip started inauspiciously, with a brief flight delay at the Baltimore airport. We still arrived in Kansas City, Missouri, on time, and under relatively clear skies. After checking into our hotels, we were bussed to our eclipse viewing location, the Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center on the outskirts of nearby St Joseph, an easy ride of about 35 minutes. We registered, davened minchah, and were issued special protective eclipse-viewing glasses.
In the evening, we were treated to an elaborate kosher dinner by O’Fishel featuring a plentiful, all you can eat buffet. Rib steak starred on the menu since, after all, Kansas City is noted for its steaks. Also quite appropriately, the meal began with a delicious solar-themed fruit soup!
Dinner was followed by lectures given by Dr. Ury and Rabbi Heber. The evening concluded with ma’ariv, after which we returned to our hotels in Kansas City.
The next morning was overcast and drizzly, much to our disappointment. Of all the locations in the United States where the total eclipse could be visible, St. Joseph should have been the best. According to a local newspaper report, “Only two other spots in the country would have longer blackouts, and typically, August skies are clearer in Northwest Missouri.” We arrived early, again by bus, in St Joseph for shacharis, followed by a hearty breakfast. Then we waited, hoping for a break in the clouds. In the meantime, we enjoyed another of O’Fishel’s great meals: a barbeque lunch with all the trimmings.
Alas, the weather did not cooperate. Here and there, for a few seconds, small breaks did appear allowing for a couple of very short glimpses of the partial phases. But rain and clouds persisted during totality (1:06 p.m. Central Daylight Time) until well after the conclusion of the eclipse. The sky did get very dark at midday (see my attached photo) and the temperature dropped noticeably. As the eclipse totality concluded one could see “dawn” shining thru the clouds in the WEST!
One other eclipse experience that we did get to feel the full effect of was the two -
hour bus trip back to Kansas City from St Joseph – with traffic on interstate highway 29 at a near standstill! We barely made it to the airport in time for our flight in the evening. Our frustrations were somewhat relieved by O’Fishel’s kosher boxed dinner, which we enjoyed on the plane.
Despite our disappointment at the weather and our inability to see the sun disappear and stars come out during the day, the excitement, shared experience, and fellowship were enjoyable, valuable, and pleasant.
Our granddaughter Elisheva said it was a fantastic trip – “with great bonding time!” – and one she will never forget.
By Louis Morris