Monday 14 September 2009

Classic Israeli Heroine

Nobody would want to be in the shoes of Rona Ramon today, or ever for that matter. Imagine having to bury your 21 year-old son just 6 short years after burying your husband. The thought seems too awful to contemplate, and yet this is what she is doing today. The hearts of all Israelis and all Jews around the world go out to her today in her hour of grief. Not only is she having to cope with this tragedy, she is forced to do so in the full glare of the media and the public at large.

The reason for this is because Rona Ramon is no ordinary citizen of Israel. In addition to being the grieving mother of an F-16 fighter pilot, Capt. Assaf Ramon z"l, whose plane crashed yesterday during a training exercise, Rona Ramon is the widow of Col. Ilan Ramon z"l, Israel's first astronaut and national hero.

Ilan Ramon grew up in the rural town of Beersheba. Both his mother and grandmother were survivors of the Auschwitz death camp, who managed to make their way to Israel in the aftermath of the holocaust in defiance of the determination of the Nazis to wipe out the Jewish nation. Ilan was the epitome of this defiance. He was a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force and accumulated thousands of hours of flying experience. In 1981, he was the youngest of the pilots who were sent on a mission to destroy Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor.

When it came to selecting a person to be Israel's first astronaut, a more appropriate and deserving person could not have been found. Col. Ilan Ramon, a secular Jew in his private life, considered himself a representative of all Israelis and Jews around the world. As such, he sought to follow Jewish observances whilst in space. He insisted upon eating only kosher food and exercised the greatest rabbinical minds about how he should observe the Sabbath in space when the cycle between sunrises is approximately 90 minutes. He made sure that he carried with him into space a copy of a Torah scroll from the holocaust, a sketch "Moon Landscape" by Petr Ginz who died in the holocaust, a barbed wire mezuzah and a dollar of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I recall my children, at the time 10 and 8 years old, following every aspect of his mission on the space shuttle Columbia. How proud they felt of this Israeli in space, who was representing Israel and all Jews in such an honourable and sensitive way. We knew exactly what he would eat at every meal, and what time he was being woken up by mission control to continue his intensive research and experiments. I remember how we waited proudly and nervously for his return to earth on that fateful day, 1 February 2003, whilst we were celebrating my son's 11th birthday. The scenes of debris falling from the sky that filled our TV pictures were confusing, but it soon became clear that Ilan Ramon would not return to earth safely. He perished on that day with his fellow crew members, having not even reached his 50th birthday.

The miracles concerning the belongings of Ilan Ramon that survived the ravages of the fire 37 miles above earth that killed the astronauts are legendary. 37 pages of his personal diary survived the inferno, their pages remaining white and not charred. With the help of experts from Jerusalem's Israel Museum, 80% of the text of his diary was deciphered. 1 of the pages displayed at the museum is a copy of the Kiddush prayer, recited on the eve of Sabbath, and which Ramon had with him.

Despite having already sacrificed a member of her family to the cause of science and to further Israel's standing in the international world, Rona Ramon agreed to support the wishes of her eldest son, Assaf, when he decided he wished to follow in his father's footsteps as a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force. It was in an F-16A, exactly the same type of plane that his father flew in his mission to Iraq, that Assaf died.

Rona Ramon, you have given to Israel two heroes. You are an Israeli hero and we salute your courage and your contribution to Israel and to all Jews around the world. Our hearts are with you today as you bury your precious son alongside the remains of his famous father. May you and your family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

No comments: