Ilan Ramon 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.

Ilan 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.

He also asked for and received kosher food, with the full cooperation of NASA..

By 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."

In 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."

Speaking 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."

He 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 Jerusalem.

[Compiled from reports in Jerusalem Post, Hazon, and Beis Moshiach.]

Redesign and implementation - By WEB-ACTION