We Soared With Ilan

Yuval Rotem, Israeli consul general for the Western United
States, delivered these remarks at a Feb. 1 dinner for Pressman Academy,
honoring him and his wife, Miri, at the Airport Westin Hotel.

A verse in the Bible reads, “I am ready to stop, and my pain
is continually before me.”

Ladies and gentleman, it truly has become too hard for us
–for our people. This was supposed to have been an escape from the pain. An
escape from the fear and the anguish. An escape into space.

This was supposed to have been the dream of our entire
nation. A dream imagined 60 years ago by a young Jewish boy named Peter Ginz.
Trapped in Europe by the horrors of the Holocaust, Peter drew a picture that he
titled “Moon Landscape.” It was his vision of escape to another world.

Peter was not able to escape. He was killed at Auschwitz at
the age of 14. But his picture of the moon was found after the war. It did
escape. It went into space. It was carried there on Jan. 16, 2003, aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia by Col. Ilan Ramon, z”l.

My friends, Ilan Ramon was the true embodiment of the Jewish
people’s journey during the past century. His mother and grandmother survived
the Auschwitz death camp and made their way to Israel as immigrants.

His father, himself a refugee from Germany, became a soldier
in the Haganah, who fought for the independence of the newborn State of Israel.
Ilan himself was born in Israel. He was the ultimate representation of what an
Israeli is able to be: free and proud, strong, secure, confident and Jewish.

From fleeing persecution in Europe, to fighting for the
right to an independent homeland, to soaring into space: This was the story of
Ilan’s family. This is the story of Israel. This is the story of the Jewish

As Ilan himself once remarked:

“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.”

Ilan said that serving as Israel’s first astronaut was part
of a “miracle” that stretched back 50 years. Ilan Ramon was an important symbol
for Israel, but he was also far more. He was a brave defender of our skies, our
land and our people.

He displayed courage and fortitude in defending Israel in
his fighter plane during that moment of grave danger: the Yom Kippur War of
1973. He defended our nation against Syrian fighters in 1982.

And he also took part in another action of enormous
significance. An action that may have saved the people of Israel from untold
disaster, a feat that may have prevented the loss of hundreds of thousands of
lives, maybe millions, and not just Israeli lives.

In 1981, Ilan Ramon, piloting his F-16 fighter, took part in
the mission to destroy Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak. At that
point in time, the reactor was preparing to develop enough enriched uranium to
build four or five Hiroshima-size bombs.

Imagine the debt of gratitude we all owe Ilan Ramon and his
fellow pilots for their successful mission…. Imagine where the world would be
today were Saddam Hussein to possess nuclear capability.

In the Book of Psalms, we perhaps can find a reference to
Ilan Ramon. It says: “His excellence is over Israel, and His strength is in the

Ilan is a hero of Israel. A tribute to the Jewish people. He
was among the most talented fighter pilots in the world. He was Israel’s first
astronaut. Most importantly, he was a loving husband and father — his dear
wife, Rona, and their four young children. We cannot comfort them. We can only
hope that they find comfort in each other as time goes on, and that they can
find a measure of peace and pride in the sacrifice of this noble soul.

We also extend our prayers to the families of the other
astronauts: commander Rick Husband; pilot Willie McCool; mission specialists
Dave Brown, Laurel Clark and Kalpana Chala; and payload commander Mike
Anderson. May each of their memories be a blessing.

In his final mission aboard the space shuttle, Col. Ilan
Ramon lifted the spirits of our entire nation. We were moved to tears when Ilan
broadcast to our nation:

“I want to say that from here, in space, Israel looks like
it appears on the map — small, but beautiful. “

As Ilan soared, we soared with him. As he died, a part of
each of us died with him.

May he and his fellow astronauts now rest in peace. And may
Ilan, who protected us for so many years in this world, continue to protect us
from above.