Remembering Ilan Ramon
Sometimes it is hard to forget that Israel is such a tiny country. It takes six hours to drive from the most northern point to the southern border with Egypt. I’m told you can fit 250 States of Israel into Texas. Our population is considerably smaller than New Jersey.
So when one of us excels in something we are all proud. I remember Maccabi Tel Aviv winning the European Basketball Championship or when Israeli soldiers rescued the prisoners at Entebbe.
So you can forgive us getting extremely excited when one of our own was chosen to fly into space – to boldly go where no Israeli has gone before.
Ilan Ramon was chosen to join the ill-fated space shuttle payload specialist of STS-107, the fatal mission of Columbia, in which he and six other crew members were killed in the re-entry accident.
He was a man acutely aware of his place in history and the weight of his people on his shoulders. Ramon asked the 1939 Club, a Holocaust survivor organization in Los Angeles, for a symbol of the Holocaust to take into outer space with him. A barbed wire mezuzah by the San Francisco artist Aimee Golant was selected.
Against all odds, or perhaps a divine act, several pages of his journal impossibly survived. Curator Yigal Zalmona said: “The diary survived extreme heat in the explosion, extreme atmospheric cold, and then “was attacked by microorganisms and insects. It’s almost a miracle that it survived — it’s incredible. There is ‘no rational explanation’ for how it was recovered when most of the shuttle was not, he said.”[
Ramon wrote on the last day of the journal: “Today was the first day that I felt that I am truly living in space. I have become a man who lives and works in space.”
An entire nation mourned the tragedy. Three days later my second son was born. Asif Ilan never knew his namesake, but he proudly tells people of the man he was named after ten years ago, a man who reached for the stars.
We remember Ilan Ramon.
Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.