Ilan Ramon was not the first Jew to travel outside the earth’s atmosphere, but his voyage was certainly the most special for us. He was the first to go not as an individual, but as the representative of the entire Jewish people. That is why, although he did not identify as an observant Jew, he insisted that NASA provide him only kosher food. He hung a mezuzah on one of the portals of his capsule. In his bag was a book of Psalms and a dollar bill from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. As he passed over Jerusalem, he said the Shema Yisrael. And the whole world watched as he lifted a small Torah scroll that had miraculously survived Auschwitz.
Why the Almighty took him and the other six astronauts from us as He did, I will not even venture to know. But I must admit that, in so many ways, I envy him. Sure, I envy all those who get to travel to outer space—but nobody ever carried anything like his kind of baggage. You could say that he took an entire nation—3400 years of history included—to the heavens. Proving that none of us, no matter how far we may journey, ever goes alone.
Ode to Ramon
February 3, 2003
He was all of us
And he knew he was all of us.
He felt it to the bone.
As Colonel Ramon pierced the firmament of planet Earth
reaching yet higher, past his home, upward to enter the endless heavens
he held his mother’s hand,
and his father’s
and his grandparents’.
All their memories and memorabilia, their suffering and their victory.
He held my hand, too, and the hand of every one of us that ever was
and he held all the millennia of our people as living objects in his capsule
Not Sefardi, not Ashkenazi
Not secular, not haredi
Not north, not south, not West Bank, not Diaspora
And in that final moment of a space pilot’s glory
as the Unfathomable One stretched forth His arm in embrace
as the stars made room for him in the heavens
In that ultimate moment of supreme oneness,
in awe, through his lips the Eternal Jew uttered,
“Listen, Israel, the Source of Being, our G‑d, the Source of Being is One.”
And the vast emptiness beyond
echoed an awesome voice,
“Who is like Your people, Israel! A nation of oneness
upon the earth.”
There is hope, for we are one.
There is hope for all our planet Earth.