An Inspiring Hero: Israel’s First Astronaut
Ilan Wolferman (1954-2003) was born in Ramat Gan, Israel to Holocaust survivors. At just 19 years of age, he distinguished himself in the Yom Kippur War as a brave soldier, receiving a military decoration for his service. A year later he graduated as a fighter pilot, and as customary, took on a new name, ‘Ramon’. By 1981 he was promoted to squadron commander and was the youngest pilot to participate in the covert Operation Opera – Israel’s successful hit on Iraq’s nuclear reactor. He would log over 4000 hours of flying time, 1000 of which were in an F-16. In the relative calm of the late 1980s, Ramon studied at Tel Aviv University and earned a science degree in electronics and computer engineering. Returning to the military, he became a colonel by 1994, and in 1997 was invited by NASA to serve as a payload specialist in its space shuttle program.
His mission finally came in 2003, when he spent nearly 16 days in space, working 24 hour shifts and performing over 80 successful experiments. He proudly declared that he was representing all Jews and all Israelis. Part of that meant that his space food was certified kosher, that he brought to space with him a Torah scroll and a mezuzah, and he even asked his rabbi how he should keep Shabbat in orbit, where sunrise comes every 90 minutes. Tragically, the Columbia space shuttle exploded upon re-entry into Earth, taking the life of Ramon and his fellow crewmates. Sadder still, Ramon’s son Asaf perished in a training flight in 2009. In an unbelievable miracle, 37 pages of Ilan Ramon’s diary somehow survived the crash, when virtually everything else completely disintegrated. Scientists stated there is no “rational explanation” to how this was possible. An inspiring hero, Ilan Ramon was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and his memory continues to be a shining beacon for Israel and the Jewish nation.
Words of the Week
Why [are mourners fed] lentils? Just as the lentil has no mouth, so is the mourner speechless…Just as the lentil is round, so mourning comes round to all the inhabitants of this world.
– Talmud, Bava Batra 16b