The following article was published in the Jerusalem Post on January 16, 2003, the day Ilan Ramon's flight took off.

A new Jewish hero is being launched Thursday - literally. Col. Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut, is scheduled to be hundreds of kilometers above our planet in his capacity as payload specialist aboard NASA's space shuttle Columbia.

But Ramon's journey is more than just another feel-good story for a country desperate for some good news. Rather it's an inspiring example of one man who senses the importance of Jewish identity.

Despite not being Orthodox or observant, Ramon made headlines around the world as a result of his insistence on marking Shabbat in space and his procurement of kosher food from NASA.

Says Ramon: "My mother is a Holocaust survivor who was in Auschwitz, and my father fought for the independence of Israel not so long ago. I was born in Israel and I'm kind of the proof for my parents and their generation that whatever we've been fighting for in the last century is coming true. I feel I'm representing the whole Jewish people."

No wonder, then, that one of our students recently came back from a trip to Universal Studios with a poster - not of Eminem, but of this 48-year-old veteran of the Israel Air Force.

Unlike so many Jewish celebrities, Ramon isn't blurring his Jewish roots. He's not a "Jew at home and a man on the street," as the Hebrew poet Y.L. Gordon idealized. In fact, he's reversed that sentiment - and by being proud to display his heritage Ramon is making a massive contribution to Jewish continuity.

The very fact that we talk so much about 'Jewish continuity' is ominous. It implies that intermarriage, assimilation and apathy continue to rise.

Addressing the reason so many young people have become alienated from Judaism, Jewish educators Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin said in 1975, "The essential problem underlying Jewish identity can be summarized in a single sentence: For the great majority of young Jews who abandon Jewish identity, it is not Judaism but a caricature thereof that they are rejecting." There are programs out there, such as birthright Israel, Hillel, Chabad, and day schools, that can combat this caricature of Judaism. But in order to be effective they must operate in an environment where Jewish identity is a priority."

This is Ramon's subtle call to celebrities, movie producers, philanthropists, CEOs and all Jews in the public eye. It is a call for tangible acts of Jewishness to raise Jewish consciousness.

In his New York Times best-seller, "The Tipping Point," Malcolm Gladwell identifies this "tipping point" as the magic moment when ideas, trends, and social behaviors cross a threshold, tip, and spread like wildfire.

In Jewish terms, this means a few key individuals in the right social context can cause rapid social change and ensure a revolution in Jewish and Zionist identity.

Arguably, this is what Sandy Koufax did in 1965 when he refused to pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur. Koufax was a symbol of success at the highest levels of sport.

Ilan Ramon represents success in the modern scientific community. Koufax wasn't an observant Jew; nor is Ramon. But their tangible demonstrations of Jewish identity have brought great dividends to the Jewish people; they may very well contribute to a new dynamism which will take root, transforming the consciousness of our generation.

So to Ramon I say, "Ilan, may you go from strength to strength! Your scientific work in outer space is important - but your personal example is of immeasurable importance to us Jewish earthlings down here."