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Noam Mayerfeld Reaches for the Stars at NASA

As part of their education and training to be Modern Orthodox leaders of the future, Straus Scholars are encouraged to take summer jobs, internships, and fellowships that allow them to build on their Straus Center studies. Many Scholars spent this past summer participating in programs from a variety of disciplines. In this installment, we interview Noam Mayerfeld (YC ‘25), a computer science major who spent this past summer at a prestigious internship for NASA, and he currently serves in a leadership role for students in undergraduate Torah studies.

How did you spend your summer?

I spent the summer working as a software developer intern at NASA for the Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition (CSDA) program. The CSDA program aims to on-ramp and evaluate new commercial data vendors for their potential to advance NASA’s Earth science research and applications; establish data management process for long-term data preservations, including distribution of purchased data and long-term access for scientific reproducibility; enable the sustained use of purchased data for broader use and dissemination by the Earth scientific community; and coordinate with other U.S. Government agencies and international partners on the evaluation and scientific use of commercial data. In a nutshell, what that means is that CSDA purchases commercial Earth Science data from third-party vendors and makes it available to authenticated members of the scientific community. Users can search for available data using filters based on spatial-temporal criteria and receive any available data.

Tell us about your new role in student government.

I currently serve as Vice President of Student Organization of Yeshiva (SOY). SOY focuses on fulfilling the religious needs of Yeshiva University's Wilf Campus Students, working to create a comfortable Jewish environment, filled with Torah learning and religious life on campus, as well as to serve the greater YU community and support Torah and religiously oriented activities.  As representatives of a diverse student body - whether it’s the Mechina program, the IBC program, the SBMP program, the MYP program or RIETS - our goal is to create a unified atmosphere of Torah and Jewish identity on campus. In my role, I manage a significant events budget, decide how the money should be allocated and spent, plan various events, and contribute to a lot of the day-to-day religious programming that happens on campus. I participated in defining SOY’s goals and mission statement, and I work to ensure that all expenditures align with those goals.

How has the Straus Center's programming shaped your experience at YU?

The Straus Center programming has played a significant role in my YU experience.  As a computer science student, I really appreciate the ability to engage with the wealth of knowledge of the Western world, and to bring some of its various works into conversation with each other as well as to compare and contrast these works with works of Torah, together with my peers and mentors. Through courses like “Ethics in AI,” “Schools of Aggadah,” “Maimonides and his Enemies,” “Athens and Jerusalem,” “Modern Political Theory,” and “Zionist Political Thought,” through various fascinating reading group seminars, and through engaging educational trips, the Straus Center has provided me with the ability to enhance my avodas Hashem (service of God), and to appreciate many of the nuances contained within, by challenging me to think deeply about the world around me and how I engage with it.

How has your summer reinforced, enriched, or put into perspective what you have learned through the Straus Center?

My work this summer brought to mind, time and time again, a famous comment of Rambam (Maimonides):

It is a mitzvah to love and fear this glorious and awesome God, as [Deuteronomy 6:5] states: “And you shall love God, your Lord" and, as [Deuteronomy 6:13] states: “Fear God, your Lord.” What is the path [to attain] love and fear of Him? When a person contemplates His wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will immediately love, praise, and glorify [Him], yearning with tremendous desire to know [God’s] great name, as David stated: “My soul thirsts for the Lord, for the living God” [Psalms 42:3]. When he [continues] to reflect on these same matters, he will immediately recoil in awe and fear, appreciating how he is a tiny, lowly, and dark creature, standing with his flimsy, limited, wisdom before He who is of perfect knowledge, as David stated: “When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers... [I wonder] what is man that You should recall Him” [Psalms 8:4-5]. (Yesodei Hatorah 2:1-2)

I never fully appreciated this concept when studying biology in a classroom. But at NASA, looking at beautiful satellite imagery, watching videos of many different galaxies compiled from footage from the James Webb space telescope, watching an Antares rocket launch, and so many more experiences, strengthened my emunah (belief) in ways that I cannot even begin to describe. Watching videos of galaxies lightyears away, even as the presenter tried so hard to explain how the events portrayed within were caused by the Big Bang, gave me a new level of appreciation for the beautiful work of God, and an increased level of emunah that only God could have worked such wonders. Such beautiful things that follow such specific predefined rules aren’t just caused by a colossal accident.