of blessed memory
We mourn the loss of Ilan Ramon and all the other astronauts who perished
on the space shuttle, Columbia. In his memory, we should not forget the
unifying message which Ilan Ramon brought to the Jewish people.
Ramon was a secular-oriented Jew, yet he sanctified the Divine Name through some
of his public statements and deeds. During a period when a strident secular party
in Israel is demanding that the Jewish state and its institutions no longer publicly
honor the Jewish Sabbath and other Jewish traditions, Ilan Ramon told the Israeli
public that as a representative of the Jewish state, he would attempt to honor
the Shabbat in a symbolic way while on the flight. He consulted with Orthodox
and Chassidic rabbis about how most properly to do so.
also asked for and received kosher food, with the full cooperation of NASA..
doing so, he conveyed a message to the Jews of Israel that, regardless of their
personal beliefs and practices, they should remember that the Jewish spiritual
heritage unites us and is worthy of public respect.
In one interview,
he said: "We have to find a way to bring our people closer together, to show
more patience and understanding. I hope that my eating kosher will send a message
of willingness to do so."
his first live, on-camera comments to Israel, Ramon added: "I think it is
very, very important to preserve our historical tradition, and I mean historical
and religious traditions."
to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a live hook-up from the space shuttle Columbia,
Ramon gingerly took out of a plastic bag a wallet-sized Torah that he had been
given by a survivor of Bergen-Belsen (an interesting story in itself!). At one
point the miniature parchment scroll floated for an instant out of his hand. Ramon
told the PM that it symbolizes
"more than anything the ability of the Jewish people to survive everything,
including horrible periods, and go from the darkest days to days of hope and faith
in the future."
also brought on board a mezuzah, a tiny Book of Psalms, and a dollar bill from
the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
On his first Shabbat on the Columbia --the
Rabbis told him to observe it according to the calendar at the Cape Kennedy launching
site-- Ilan Ramon became the first Jew in history to recite kiddush in
outer space. Since the lack of gravity made it impossible to pour the wine into
a cup, the Rabbis told him it would be acceptable for him to leave the wine in
the bottle and drink from a straw.
In a letter sent from space to President
Moshe Katsav, written on January 26, his 14th day on the shuttle, Ilan described
some of his experiences: the training period, his joy at finally lifting off,
and his feelings as he flew over Israel. He related that he saw Jerusalem clearly,
and while gazing at the capital he recited the words of the Shema: "Hear
O Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is One."
This was not the first
time that Ramon earned the right to be an international hero. In 1981, he was
one of eight Israeli F-16 pilots who obliterated the French-built Osiraq reactor
near Baghdad in a lightning raid that shocked the world.
May the Creator
bring comfort to his wife and four children and to all the mourners of Zion and
[Compiled from reports in Jerusalem Post, Hazon,
and Beis Moshiach.]