Seven Heroes, Seven Faiths
A look at the astronauts' different spiritual paths--and their communities' different ways of mourning.
Many Jews first heard about the tragedy en route to Shabbat services on Saturday morning, and some rabbis delivered impromptu sermons based on the disaster. Others marked the tragedy with a few words or a special kaddish during the Saturday morning services. Some communities are holding memorial services throughout the week, including one held Monday at Yeshiva University, where president Norman Lamm praised Ramon: "What a magnificent gesture, what a magnificent Jew, what a magnificent human being."
Though there have been other Jewish astronauts, Ramon's mission took on added significance because he went to space at such a difficult time for Israel. He served as "a hopeful beacon," said his friend Rabbi Mark Blazer, of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita, Ca.
Ramon was viewed as a hero in Israel. The Israeli government had already issued a postage stamp commemorating Israel's first astronaut. "The average Israeli knew far more about this mission than the average American," noted Blazer. Blazer was at the launch, and described a moving moment when many of the Jews and Israelis gathered at Cape Canaveral broke out into the song, "Oseh Shalom" ("Make Peace"). Blazer said that song was true to Ramon's message, that "this [space travel] is what can happen when people make peace."
The Israeli and Jewish communities are using technology to mourn Ramon as well. The Israeli Defense Force, which Ramon served as a colonel in the Air Force, set up a special email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) where mourners can send messages that will be delivered to the family. One Israeli company has set up a website where users can light virtual candles in honor of Ramon and leave a message in either Hebrew or English.
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Before he left on the Columbia shuttle mission last month, Michael P. Anderson had a talk with his pastor, the Rev. Freeman Simmons. On Sunday, congregants at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Spokane, Wash., learned of their conversation.