There are some stories that just make you go wide-eyed, and pretty much stay that way for weeks. The shock never really goes away, and every time you think about it, you are somewhere between cringing, crying, and shedding a tear of pride. And let’s not ever forget, simply asking why.
We all felt this when Ilan Ramon, the first Israel astronaut and one of the most sublime representatives the Jewish people has ever had, went into space with the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Ramon took upon himself what is arguably the most pervasive sanctification of the name of God in modern times by bringing a Holocaust Torah into space and doing his best to keep Shabbat as a representative of the Jewish people while he was flying around the globe in the space shuttle Discovery back in 2003.
Upon reentry, as we all well know, Ramon’s craft was destroyed, killing the entire crew and burning everything including the Torah that was written in a death camp, save 37 pages from a diary Ramon had kept which, beyond any rational explanation, survived reentry while the space shuttle itself did not. The wreckage was found spread out over a southern US city called Palestine, Texas. We all cried, we all felt incredibly proud, devastated, perhaps sick to our stomachs, and the lump in our throats wouldn’t leave for weeks. We also scratched our heads, thinking that something strange just happened that we couldn’t readily explain.
Ilan Ramon was survived by his wife and four children. His eldest son, Assaf, decided to be an F16 pilot, just like his father Ilan, so he could be closer to him, posthumously. So he did, graduating at the top of his class, and he of course would have made Ilan proud. He certainly made his mother, Rona, proud.
Yesterday, Assaf Ramon was killed in a training accident over the Hebron Hills. He was flying the same plane flown by his father in 1981 as the Chief Navigator of the mission to blow up Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor.
The plane took off from the Nevatim air base at 1 P.M. on a routine training flight in a single-seat Falcon as part of the advanced flight training course. The pilot Assaf was working with could not find him on radio, and reports followed of residents near Hebron reporting a plane flying at low altitude, followed by an explosion.
An IDF officer who was one of the first on the scene said that “all that was left was a big, burned out crater, with very little debris.” The IDF brought hundreds of soldiers who began combing the mountains for debris. Ramon’s remains were found near the crater.
Ramon was named best cadet in his class after finishing his training almost three months ago. He is now buried next to his father.
Rona, Assaf’s mother and Ilan’s wife, now has three children left. Only God knows the pain she is going through, as only God knows why this family has to suffer so greatly.
So it is with a sense of entirely contradictory emotions of profound sickness, pride, shock, hope, and sincerity, as well as many others I dare not list, that I wish the Ramon family comfort in the new year that will begin at the end of this week. May they know no more sorrow, oh God. They have had enough.
May God comfort them among the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem.