of Ramon, a father of four and a former Israeli Air
Force fighter pilot.
Other world leaders, including Russian President
Vladimir Putin and German Foreign Minister
Joschka Fischer, also expressed their condolences to
schoolyard as a student began to read from a poem
NAOMI SEGAL and MATTHEW GUTMAN
Ramon's wife, Rona, had sent him while in orbit:
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
In Iraq, however, some felt the tragedy was divine
The last of my days is perhaps nigh
justice. Iraq's official newspaper noted that one of
Near is the day of tears of separation
the astronauts killed was a "Zionist" who had flown
ven for Israelis hardened by years of deal-
But I will wait for thee till my life is extinguished,
in Israel's 1981 raid on an Iraqi nuclear reactor at
ing with Palestinian terrorism, the death
as Rachel awaited her beloved.
Osirak. Baghdad auto mechanic Mohammed Jaber
of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon came as a
The students were captivated by the words, the
Tamini told news agencies that Ramon's death was
drama and a numbing pain with which they could
retribution for his role in that raid.
The weather itself seemed to reflect the national
all identify. The chatter picked up again, until a
The Jerusalem Post quoted some Palestinians offer-
mood: A thick, mustard-colored fog blanketed Israel
husky voiced youth on stage began to sing Hatikvah, ing similar viewpoints.
on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 2, a day after Ramon and Israel's national anthem.
Security for the shuttle mission had been extremely
six NASA astronauts were killed when the space
"Maybe we are cursed," Eyal Oren, 17, said after-
tight, as officials feared that terrorists might target the
shuttle Columbia broke into pieces as it re-entered
ward. "We can't catch a break. Even the easy things
shuttle because an Israeli was on board. But officials
the earth's atmosphere over Texas.
were quick to rule out the posSibility of terrorism in
The Columbia tragedy hit especially close to home,
Amid the tragedy, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
said Naomi Baum, a psychologist at the Israel Center
vowed that Israel's space aspirations were not over.
Ramon's participation in the 16-day scientific research
for the Treatment of Psychotrauma. "We
mission had been a boost for Israel's
identified with Ramon and his family
national morale, which has been battered
because we learned so much about them
by two years of Palestinian terrorism and
in the past four years, and especially in
a floundering economy. "Ilan Ramon
the past two weeks. It hurt so much
took the country to new heights," said
because we developed an intimacy with
former Prime Minister Shimon Peres,
him and his family," Baum said.
who was instrumental in arranging
"In many ways, the shuttle disaster and
the loss of Ramon, someone who repre-
The Columbia shuttle mission was
sented so much of what was good about
significant not just for Israel's space
Israel, served to dredge up a lot of the
program, but because the presence of
other trauma Israelis have gone through
Ramon, the child of a Holocaust sur-
in the past few years," she added.
vivor, symbolized the Jewish people's
Ramon was Israel's very own "right
stuff" — Alan Shepard, John Glenn
Following the Columbia crash, the
and Yitzhak Rabin rolled into one.
front pages of Israel's dailies had pic-
He was, many Israelis felt, the best of
tures of Ramon, looking straight at the
the best: professional, brash, modest,
camera, his hand raised in a salute —
handsome — and proud to be an
or a farewell. "Shards of the Dream"
Israeli and a Jew.
was the headline appearing in the
"We felt he was our messenger to the The family of Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, gather during an informal recep-
Israeli daily Ma'ariv. The paper ran a
great wide world," Baum said, "and
full-page photo of burning debris from
tion in his honor Jan. 15 in Cocoa Beach, Fla. From left are his father, Eliezer
now feel like a true friend and leader is
Columbia streaming down to earth.
Wolferman; children, Assaf 15, Yiftach, 10, Noa, 5; wife, Rona; and son, Tal, 13.
"Crying for Israel," was Yediot
By Sunday, the hero's welcome that
Achronot's headline. Ha'aretz commen-
Israel had planned for its first astronaut had given
"The day will come when we will launch more
tator Ari Shavit described the pride Israelis felt in
way to mourning. "Even for the world champions in
Israeli astronauts into space," Sharon said. "I am
sending "one of our own" into space, and the hope
watching disasters unfold on television, this event
sure that each and every one of them will carry in
it gave the nation that it could somehow "de& the
was not quite like anything we know," one com-
his heart the memory of Ilan Ramon, a pioneer in
gravity of its fate." That hope keeps shattering, he
mentator wrote in the Ma'ariv newspaper.
Israeli space travel."
At Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting, Sharon said
In an interview with Ma'ariv last month, Ramon
the deaths of the Columbia astronauts Saturday
minimized fears about his safety. "The chances an
morning were not in vain. He also extended condo-
accident would happen in space are very small. As
Flags flew at half-staff and schools held special
lences to the United States and the families of the
far as safety is concerned, I'm not concerned at all,"
assemblies to remember the 48-year-old Ramon. A
six NASA crew members.
he said. "In NASA, safety takes precedence over
memorial ceremony was held at his former high
Memorial books were opened for Ramon in Israeli
everything else. The shuttle has backup upon back-
school in Beersheba. Among those attending were
consulates around the world, an honor generally
up upon backup."
the astronaut's former classmates.
reserved for heads of state. In addition, the Israel
Along with Ramon, the shuttle — which was on
"Ilan was a hero, and yesterday afternoon he
Defense Forces set up an e-mail address for the pub-
its 28th mission — carried commander Rick
became a legend," former classmate Reuven Segev
lic to send condolence messages to Ramon's family:
Husband, pilot Willie McCool, mission specialists
told current students at Mekif Gimel High School.
Dave Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla and
At Tel Aviv's Herzliya Gymnasium, 1,000 teenagers
After the crash, U.S. President George W Bush
payload commander Mike Anderson.
attended a memorial service. A hush fell over the
phoned Sharon to express condolences over the loss
When news of the disaster broke Saturday, mem-
Even in hardened nation like Israel, death of astronaut comes as a blow.