Seidemann: Ilan Ramon's birthday gift


From the other side of the bench

By David Seidemann

Issue of July 3, 2009 / 11 Tammuz 5769

You can’t make this stuff up. Thirty-seven pages of an Israeli astronaut’s diary fell 37 miles to earth and landed, of all places, in Palestine, Texas. Google it, if you don’t believe me.

He was born June 20, 1954 and would have celebrated his 55th birthday last week. Would have, had Shuttle Columbia not disintegrated over Texas during re-entry in February 2003, minutes before landing. So what did Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space, receive for his 55th birthday?

On June 21, 2009, Ramon’s son, Assaf, graduated from the Israeli Air Force Pilot Training course and received his wings and rank as an officer. Assaf, like his father, has decided to make the skies his home, defending Israel and bridging the gap between heaven and earth.

Col. Ilan Ramon was a self-described traditional Jew who, though not observant himself, felt kinship with all Jews of all types. He felt connected to Jews past and present and specifically requested that he be allowed to launch into space with a memento of the Holocaust. A barbed wire mezuzah flew with him.

I don’t know if Ramon made Kiddush every Friday night here on earth, but on the

Friday night he spent in orbit, he made Kiddush. Why? Because, in his words, he represented all Jews on that journey, those who are moved to recite the Kiddush on Friday nights, and those who are not.

Most of the 37 pages that defied science and didn’t burn to a crisp were nevertheless illegible. A few pages, however, were able to be restored and read, among them Ramon’s handwritten words of the Kiddush that he intoned a day or so prior to the Shuttle Columbia’s break up.

NASA had ordered kosher food for Ramon from a company in Illinois and that’s what he took with him as he circled earth thousands of miles from where anyone could see him eat non-kosher if he had so desired. Before departing, he asked a rabbi how he should observe Shabbat in space where a week occurs every 10 and a half hours.

Why? Because he sincerely felt that as he rocketed into space he was representing all Jews, those whose life style mirrored his, and those whose practices differed.

He took a dollar from the Lubavitcher Rebbe with him and a microfiche copy of a Torah scroll that had survived the Holocaust. Why? Because he understood brotherhood and because he understood past, present and future.

Tons of metal and steel were never recovered, yet 37 pieces of paper were. Thirty-seven pieces of paper that should have vanished in thin air floated to earth,

to Palestine, Texas; pages that recorded Col. Ramon’s time in space, and a page that recorded his final Friday night Shabbat Kiddush. Can you imagine reciting Kiddush — the words “and the heavens and the earth and all of their hosts were completed” — while orbiting above the Earth’s atmosphere, being able to gaze at the entire planet through one window of a space shuttle? Can you imagine paying tribute to the heavens while flying in the heavens?

Space has a certain serenity, they say, and Ramon sought and fought to achieve that peace here on earth. He was one of the pilots who participated in Israel’s attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981. He understood that mouths that spew hate rarely are accompanied by ears that are receptive to dialogue.

Close your eyes when you next recite the Friday night Kiddush. Picture yourself in space looking down at Earth and up even further into the heavens. Close your eyes and reckon with a world no human could create let alone manage.

And then when you return to work or play on Monday, open your eyes to the realization that everything you do should encompass the feelings of all of humanity, those who think, believe and practice like you, and those who don’t.

And if you do a good job then maybe, just maybe, your children will follow in your footsteps, and receive their wings to fly through life and soar to the heavens just like you.

Ilan Ramon’s untimely death is one worth noting. His life, if not just the last 16 days of his life, should serve as a model for all of us. His birthday present last week was surely one that would make any father proud — a son who follows his father’s ascent.

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann & Mermelstein.  He can be reached at (718) 692-1013 and at ds [at]