University of Missouri. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

2 U of Missouri students arrested in harassment of Jewish student

Two University of Missouri students were arrested for alleged anti-Semitic intimidation of a Jewish student.

Campus police arrested Erich Eastman 18, and Noah Rogers, 19, both of Columbia, Missouri, earlier this week. They were released after each posting $1,500 bail.

According to the alleged victim, Eastman and Rogers have been harassing him for six months, including with anti-Semitic notes and comments.

The university’s interim chancellor, Hank Foley, in an email sent Tuesday to students and other members of the campus community said the two students’ “behavior is abhorrent and antithetical to our core value of respect. It simply will not be tolerated,” the student newspaper the Columbia Missourian reported.

The Boone County Prosecutor’s Office has opened a criminal case against Eastman and Rogers, who are also facing possible expulsion from the university.

Conservative group lists 10 colleges with ‘worst anti-Semitic activity’

Ivy League schools Columbia and Cornell were among the American college campuses with the “worst anti-Semitic activity” in 2014, according to a list prepared by a conservative think tank.

The David Horowitz Freedom Center based in Southern California launched a campaign to combat the “rapidly growing anti-Semitism” on U.S. campuses with its list of the 10 having the most anti-Semitic activity last year.

[RELATED: Horowitz admits responsibility for #JewHaters posters]

The campaign, titled “Jew Hatred on Campus,” will aim to “withdraw campus privileges” of student groups that the center says “support or are associated with known terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah,” according to a statement issued Sunday by the center.

Three California schools — San Diego State, San Francisco State and UCLA — were included on the center’s list. The others are George Mason, Loyola of Chicago, Portland State, Temple and Vassar.

In response to the list, Brian Cohen, executive director of Columbia Barnard’s Kraft Center for Jewish Life, said, “I think the reality on the ground is very different than what is represented on the list. If you go to any college campus anywhere, in the United States or Israel, you will come across voices represented that you disagree with.”

Cohen added that “Jewish life on this campus has never been stronger.”

On Monday, a study released by the Louis D. Brandeis Center and Trinity College found that over half of American college students have witnessed or experienced an anti-Semitic incident.

The David Horowitz Freedom Center, formerly called the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, was established in 1988 by the political activist.

In 2011, Horowitz was criticized by pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for presenting a speech on campus titled “Infantile Disorders at UCSB: Why the Muslim Students Association is Afraid of David Horowitz.”

Israel ready to train new astronaut

Ten years after the death of Ilan Ramon on the space shuttle Columbia, Israel is ready to train a new astronaut.

Israel Space Agency chairman Yitzhak Ben Israel said Wednesday that the agency is in talks with international space agencies to place an Israeli astronaut on the International Space Agency in coming years. It could take several years to select and train an Israeli astronaut.

Ben Israel made the announcement at the eighth annual International Space Conference, being held this week in Herzliya.

Ramon, Israel's first astronaut, died in February 2003, when Columbia exploded over Texas as it reentered the Earth's atmosphere for landing.

Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon’s widow to attend school renaming event

Rona Ramon, widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was killed in the Columbia space shuttle disaster, will join in a festive event on March 25, marking the renaming of a Jewish day school in her husband’s honor.

Also participating will be relatives of two of Ramon’s crew mates, William McCool and Kalpana Chawla, as well as Garrett Reisman, a former astronaut who is Jewish.

The event is sponsored by The “1939” Club, an organization of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, and the renamed Ilan Ramon Day School in Agoura Hills, formerly the Heschel West Day School, established in 1994.

The Columbia space shuttle disintegrated during entry into the atmosphere, and its seven-member crew perished, 16 minutes before its scheduled landing on Feb. 1, 2003.

Ilan Ramon was a colonel in the Israeli Air Force and one of eight F-16 pilots who bombed and destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.

Of the four children of Ilan and Rona Ramon, son Asaf was killed at 21, while flying on a routine air force mission.

The sold-out event will be held at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

U.S. probing bias allegation at Columbia

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating Columbia University for allegedly discriminating against a Jewish student.

The probe by the department’s Office for Civil Rights concerns an Orthodox student at the Columbia-affiliated Barnard College who was “steered” by an academic adviser away from a course taught by Professor Joseph Massad because she would be made uncomfortable, according to the complaintant, Kenneth Marcus, the director of the Initiative on Anti-Semitism at the Institute for Jewish Civil Rights. Marcus served as the head of the Office for Civil Rights in 2003-04.

Massad, a sharp critic of Israel, was cleared of accusations of anti-Semitism by a Columbia committee some years ago.

“Steering” is a legal term typically used in housing discrimination cases, such as when a black family might be steered away from a white neighborhood.

Columbia President Lee Bollinger said in a statement that the university has strong policies against discrimination and treats such allegations “very seriously.” He also noted that the complaint appears to relate to academic advising and it was unfair to cite Massad because he played no part in the matter.

In 2004, Marcus instructed the Office for Civil Rights to be vigilant about campus anti-Semitism.

Columbia students disinvited from Ahmadinejad dinner

Members of a Columbia University international relations group will not attend a dinner with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after the invitation was withdrawn.

The invitation to about one dozen members of the Columbia International Relations Council and Association was rescinded Monday by the Iranian mission to the United Nations due to the extensive and negative media coverage, the Columbia Spectator reported.

The dinner is still scheduled to take place on Wednesday evening. Other Columbia students, from the university’s School of International and Public Affairs, are still planning to attend the dinner, the Spectator reported.

Some Columbia students had organized an on-campus protest called “Just Say No to Ahma(dinner)jad.”

The university is not involved with the dinner.

Ahmadinejad is in New York to participate in the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. His controversial address at Columbia in 2007 embroiled the campus in a debate over freedom of speech and academic freedom.

Israeli pilot Assaf Ramon buried next to astronaut father

Israeli pilot Assaf Ramon was buried next to his father, astronaut Ilan Ramon, a day after he was killed in a training accident.

Ramon, 20, who was made an Air Force captain posthumously, died Sunday in a crash in the Hebron Hills while flying an F-16 aircraft as part of advanced training. He had completed the basic training course for pilots with honors in June, receiving his wings from President Shimon Peres. He had escaped death in a training flight in March.

His father, Israel’s first astronaut, was killed aboard the U.S. space shuttle Columbia in 2003 when it broke apart upon its return to earth.

The funeral at Kibbutz Nahalal was closed to the media at the request of Ramon’s mother, Rona.

“The State of Israel is lowering its flag, as a whole nation mourns the death of our fallen son,” Peres said in his eulogy. “All of our hearts are broken today because the personal child of the Ramon family was a child of all of us.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who postponed a meeting with U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell in order to attend the funeral, said earlier Monday that Ramon’s death was on the level of “a biblical tragedy.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak in an interview with Israel Radio said the news of Ramon’s death was “like a punch in the stomach.”

The Air Force continued to search for wreckage from the crash. Reports citing military sources said it is likely the investigation into the crash will take some time.

Though a mechanical failure is one possibility, reports say the Air Force is looking into loss of consciousness or human error as likely causes.

Assaf Ramon, the oldest of four children, was 15 when his father died. He had said he would like to become a pilot like his father and perhaps even an astronaut.

Ilan Ramon was a fighter pilot in the Air Force and participated in the 1981 strike on an Iraqi nuclear reactor.

‘Tragic Loss’ documents Israeli astronaut’s ill-fated flight

Space escapades have been filling the news of late, from the tale of a jealous NASA astronaut stalking her rival to Virgin Galactic’s 99-minute trek into space for $200,000. But it is all a far cry from the devastating turn space travel took four years ago, when the space shuttle Columbia broke apart midair over Texas just minutes from landing in Florida.

One of the astronauts on that ill-fated mission was Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space. His journey on Columbia is documented in heart-breaking detail in “Columbia — The Tragic Loss,” an Israel-based TH production, which will be shown at UCLA Hillel on March 14.

A true Israeli hero, Ramon was the last of the eight pilots who bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981. As the last in the formation, he held the most perilous position during a mission in which up to three of the pilots were thought likely to die. He did not hesitate to take that assignment, nor did he hesitate to serve as a member of the Columbia crew.

“I’m a very cynical guy. I don’t believe in human heroes,” director Naftaly Gliksberg said in a phone interview from Israel.

Gliksberg has made documentaries about searing political topics, ranging from the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin to global anti-Semitism to an upcoming film about Israel-Iran relations in the 1990s. When the filmmaker first met Ramon in Houston before the flight, he joked to the astronaut, “You are a nonstory; you have no prostitute sister; you are from a very well-off family.”

A clean-cut, handsome mensch, Ramon lacked the stereotypical cockiness of most combat pilots. As another astronaut says in “Columbia — The Tragic Loss,” Ramon was much “more of an artist” than the other crewmembers. The 60-minute documentary, which was released in Israel in 2004, shows a serene man, whose poetic sensibilities are revealed through his diary entries, which were retrieved from the wreckage.

This is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the story, the way that the individual scraps of charred, torn paper survived the disintegration of the space shuttle and were reconstituted like missing pieces of a puzzle. A forensic expert finds the letters kof, dalet and yod, which seem to form a word, but she later discovers missing letters that spell out the word kadima.

This diary entry refers not to Ehud Olmert’s political party, which did not even exist in 2003 at the time of the Columbia disaster, but rather to the launch of the shuttle. Ramon wrote those words on the first day in flight. He also headlined another diary entry, “Kiddush,” and we see him speak to his family from space while holding a Torah rescued from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Like that relic from the Holocaust, the footage of Ramon fills us with melancholy. No one is massacred in this film, but there is a tremendous sense of loss, made all the more poignant because of the beauty of Ramon’s letters to his family.

At one point in the flight, which lasted about two weeks, he wrote in Hebrew of “a halo of green light emanating from the earth.” He also wrote about how the Earth appeared from space as one “borderless” sphere where we can all “try to live as one, in peace,” quoting from John Lennon’s song, “Imagine,” one of the last tunes the former Beatle wrote before he was gunned down in 1980 by Mark David Chapman.

The documentary provides lengthy criticism of NASA for mismanagement of the shuttle program and its failure to rescue the astronauts when it became evident early on that foam on the exterior of the space shuttle had eroded and become debris.

Gliksberg said that NASA “lost many points [in Israel] after the crash and after the movie” came out. “I can not see that Israeli people will support a new pilot” in space.

He added that he was “shocked” that “two or three weeks after” the tragedy, NASA had already introduced literature with the tagline, “Focus on the Future.”

“Where are they running to?” Gliksberg asked. “Hold on! Look at the past!”

As valid as is the criticism of NASA, the strongest parts of the film come from hearing Ramon’s diary entries read aloud to his family and to us. When we see the reaction of his family and when we listen to this uncommonly modest and loving man write to each of his children and his wife about his devotion to them, we cannot help but be moved.

It doesn’t matter much that the opening credits run against the backdrop of an amateurish rendering of the solar system, nor that the melodramatic score accompanying those opening credits seems recycled from any Hollywood thriller of the past few decades. What matters in the end is, as Lennon said, the power of imagination, the power to move beyond individual hatred and to see the one unifying globe before us.

Poverty in Israel: The divide deepens between the haves and have-nots

Spectator – A Three Nyuks Salute

Three Jews are in a room screaming at one another, poking each other in the eyes, hitting each other on the head with objects ranging from frying pans to anvils. It’s either a meeting of the synagogue’s board of trustees or a Three Stooges film festival. Fortunately, this time, it’s the latter, a quick but lethal — and lethally funny — display of Stoogehood by the American Cinematheque as part of its year-end festivities from Dec. 28-Dec.30.

Why the Stooges? Well this is the 70th anniversary of the inestimable trio’s signing by Columbia Pictures, the momentous contract that locked them into the comfortable prison block of the short-films unit at the studio. (Given that the Stooges started with the “Lady With the Lamp” in 1934 and released their first short for Columbia, “Woman Haters,” that year, logic would seem to dictate that this is the 71st anniversary, but logic seldom came onto the horizon where the Stooges are concerned.)

The Stooges would toil long and hard making films that ranged from 15 minutes to the much rarer expansiveness of 20 minutes. By the time the boys had reached the pinnacle of the industry, Jerome and Samuel Howard (better know as Curly and Shemp) had been dead several years, and Moe Howard (ne Horwitz) and Larry Fine (ne Feinberg) were well past their prime. Adding Joe Besser and Joe DeRita (a.k.a. Curly Joe) in succession as third Stooges did nothing to help, and the scripts that the boys were saddled with can best be judged by a trip to Cinematheque for “The Three Stooges Meet Hercules,” a woeful 1962 extravaganza that suffers from too little money, too few gags and too much running time.

The Stooges shorts are sharp, savage, funny and, yes, vulgar. The comedy short never lent itself to great sophistication. When geniuses like Keaton and Chaplin wanted to explore more complex modes of moviemaking and richer thematic relationships, they moved into features.

The Stooges were never so fortunate, but the best of their shorts, like “You Nazty Spy!” is pointed in its satire of Hitler (here played by the oldest Howard brother as Moe Hailstone of Moronica), and goes for his jugular with a gusto that prestige features of the time didn’t dare. Were the Stooges comic geniuses? No, but they had the sterling comic timing of the professional funnyman, hard-won in a thousand tank towns on the vaudeville circuit, and that is more than enough.

The American Cinematheque is showing the Three Stooges in “You Nazty Spy!” before the screening of “The Cocoanuts” on Wednesday,Dec. 28 at 7:30 p.m.; “The Three Stooges Meet Hercules,” preceded by “We Want Our Mummy” will be shown the following night at 7:30 p.m. Finally, on Friday, Dec. 30 at 7:30 p.m., the Cinematheque comemorates “The Three Stooges’ 70th Anniversary with a program of six of their best shorts, “Men in Black,” which merited their only Oscar nominee for best live-action short “Horses’ Collars.” “From Nurse To Worse,” “Squareheads Of The Round Table,” “An Ache in Every Stake” and “In the Sweet Pie and Pie,” which concludes with of the greatest pie-fight sequences ever perpetrated. All programs will be shown at the Aero Theater (1328 Montana Ave. at 14th Street) in Santa Monica. For more information visit’Tickets.

George Robinson is film and music critic for Jewish Week. His book, “Essential Torah,” will be published by Shocken Books in fall 2006.

For the Kids

One year ago, Kol Tikvah Religious School in Woodland Hills
started a letter-writing campaign to Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. The students
sent letters to him wishing him well and telling him how proud they were of his
accomplishments, letting him know he was not only important to Israel, but to
American students as well. For the next year they followed Ramon’s progress,
and were waiting for his return — when he would visit California and Kol Tikvah.

When the students arrived at Kol Tikvah on Sunday, Feb. 2,
tears came to their eyes when they realized that Ilan Ramon, one of the seven
astronauts on the Columbia, wasn’t coming home. Karen Susman Waldman, director
of education, asked the students to write letters to Ilan Ramon’s family,
letting them know that their sadness is shared throughout the world.  

Light From Sorrow

As an aerospace writer, I have watched 87 crews slip the
bonds of Earth’s gravity and rocket away into space.

The tension is tangible each time the laws of physics are
put to the test. On Saturday, out of the blue, we all learned a cruel lesson
about the speed, heat and friction that can prove fatal upon return to the
planet, as well. Being Jewish and having parents in Israel brought this crew
closer to me.

Jews have flown in space before, of course. David Wolf lived
on the Russian Mir space station; Jeff Hoffman took a menorah to space during
one of his shuttle missions; Judy Resnik died aboard the Challenger. But none
of these people flew with the Star of David on their arm patch. None spoke
Hebrew, asked for kosher food or chatted with the prime minister of Israel from

Ilan Ramon’s inclusion on the Columbia crew electrified
Jews, secular and religious alike. His death, mercifully not at the hands of
terrorists, snatched a hero away before he could be welcomed home.

During his blissful 16 days in space, Ramon commented about
how beautiful, how thin and how fragile the atmosphere appears from orbit. How
it needs to be cared for.

How ironic that what he spent his time in space studying was
ultimately responsible for his death.

I feel sadness for all the crew members, but thinking of
Ramon brings tears to my eyes.

I can relate to that star on his patch; I know why NASA
managers broke their self-imposed pledge not to discuss crew remains when an
Israeli journalist, intent and focused, pointedly asked about how Ramon’s
remains would be handled.

Jews have different laws, traditions and customs for
handling the deceased. NASA said these would be honored and they were working
with the Israeli government to ensure that.

Saturday was a day without hours, just one continuum that
ended with my 11-year-old son in my arms in my bed.

I forced myself not to think about Rona Ramon and her
fatherless children, ages 14, 12, 9 and 5. I tell my son that the astronauts
died doing what they wanted to do, what made them feel most alive.

“You mean they wanted to die?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “They wanted to live and they knew that what
they were doing was more dangerous than some jobs. More people die every day in
car crashes than flying in space,” I added.

We cannot control how and when we die. We can try to
postpone the inevitable with healthy diet, exercise, cancer screenings, seat
belts and motorcycle helmets, but largely our time on Earth is beyond our

What we can choose is how we live.

When I first started covering space in 1987, I had no idea
it would become a passion. The ideals, people and practices of space flight are
valuable lessons and examples for any endeavor and it speaks volumes of Ramon
that he found a home at NASA.

His being Jewish didn’t matter. His being Israeli didn’t
matter. What mattered was his ability to work as a member of a team. In return,
he was given the opportunity to look physically at the world as a global being.
The fact that he did not make it home does nothing to diminish what he
accomplished personally and on behalf of Israel.

My son said his “Shema” that night, then we pulled out a
prayer book and read the “Mourner’s Kaddish.” It didn’t feel complete, so I
read the translation in English. That, too, fell short. Then I found this by
Morris Adler:

“Out of love may come sorrow; but out of sorrow can come
light for others who dwell in darkness. And out of the light we bring to others
will come light for ourselves — the light of solace, of strength, of transfiguring.”

Article courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Â

Irene Brown is a Florida-based freelance writer, specializing in space, science and technology.

Moments of Silence

There were a lot of moments of silence this week.

There was the one early Saturday morning when you firstheard the news of the space shuttle Columbia’s disappearance. Whoever told you,whomever you told, there was that instant of disbelief, that moment when wordsfailed you.

As the reality hit, the white noise of wall-to-wall newscoverage filled our cars and living rooms. But off the air, the rest of us hadfew words to say.

The tragedy, which would have been awful under anycircumstances, stung Jews especially deeply. Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli inspace, was also the first Israeli to die in space.

As rabbis and their congregants filtered into synagogues forShabbat services Saturday morning, they entered shaking their heads, ready tocry, unable to express the sadness and loss. Synagogue turned out to be aperfect place to be.

A full-to-bursting schedule of planned events this pastweekend brought Jews together, where they could, among other things, be silenttogether.

Saturday night, just hours after the tragedy, Israeli ConsulGeneral Yuval Rotem and his wife, Miri, were honored by Pressman Academy Jewishday school at a ballroom dinner dance. It was a celebration singed with sorrow.

Organizers, said Rabbi Joel Rembaum, debated whether tocancel the music and dancing. They decided that, in the end, strength came fromboth mourning and celebrating. Rotem delivered a powerful eulogy for Ramon (seepage 9), whose picture stood propped up on the stage above a row of yahrtzeitcandles. There was a moment of silence, then, as the dancing began, PiniCohen’s band shared the stage with the smiling image of the astronaut.

Wherever Jews gathered this week, the rituals were similar.Sorrow, then business. Sorrow, then celebration. The image of Ramon — hispromise, his courage, his achievement — orbited each gathering.

At the annual meeting of the Jewish Historical Society ofSouthern California, held Sunday at the Japanese American National Museum, thehundred or so people gathered to honor Jerry Freedman-Habush began theirprogram with a moment of silence.

At a dinner Sunday evening for the University of Judaismhonoring Ruth Zeigler, UJ President Robert Wexler called for a moment silence.

Some 500 people attended the memorial service for theastronauts on Sunday at Adat Shalom synagogue in West Los Angeles. “It wouldhave been a tragedy even if Ilan Ramon wasn’t on board,” Rabbi Michael Resnicksaid. “We would have done something anyway. At difficult times we cometogether, we reach out for strength, for optimism.”

Resnick reminded the gathering of Ramon’s view from theColumbia. “There are no lines, there is just the world,” he said. “It becomesso clear that from space that we are one.”

At the home of Jean and Jerry Friedman, an elegant dinnerreception Sunday evening for some 200 major donors to Jewish education fromaround the country began with a moment of silence. And at a high-spiritedMitzvah Day organized by The Jewish Federation/South Bay Council, 500 peoplestopped to remember the astronauts.

One simple reason Ramon’s death provoked such deep reactionis that many people here knew him, and even more people felt as if they did.

Ramon’s death broke the hearts of students at ShalhevetSchool, who had sent Ramon a letter on Jan. 13, while he was still in orbit,thanking him for his achievement. “May you reach a clearer understanding of theuniverse through your unique vantage point on God’s creation,” they wrote.

Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita was aclose friend who celebrated this past Thanksgiving with the astronaut and hisfamily. At the end of the meal, Blazer had wished Ramon, “Nesiya tova,” Hebrewfor bon voyage. “I realized this was the first time I had ever said these wordsto someone going up into space,” Blazer wrote in The Daily News.

“It’s just terrible,” said William Elperin of the “1939”Club. “I couldn’t get him out of my mind all weekend. We were at his home inHouston and spent time with his wife and four children. He was such a wonderfulman.”

The “1939” Club honored Ramon in October 2000, presentinghim with a barbed-wire mezuzah symbolizing the Holocaust. The son and grandsonof Holocaust survivors took the mezuzah into space with him. 

Ramon’s picture adorned the walls of many Jewish schoolclassrooms. At Pressman Academy, educators added a prayer for peace and otherreadings in memorial of the astronauts, and students of all ages wrote e-mailsto the Ramon family to express their concern and thoughts. 

It was exactly a year ago that Kol Tikvah religious schoolstarted a letter-writing campaign to Ramon, sending him letters of support,following his progress and awaiting his visit after landing. Instead, studentswrote condolence cards.

At Universal Studios theme park, where Ramon went with hisfamily as a guest of honor during the park’s 2002 Chanukah celebration,employees remembered how Ramon had been scheduled to sign autographs for ahalf-hour. As the line grew, he refused to leave or even accept lunch untileveryone had a signed poster, nearly three and a half hours later. Ramon vowedto return after his flight so he could experience the park with his children.

Sarit Finkelstein-Boim had just seen Ramon when he served asone of the Executive Honorary Committee members for her installation aspresident of B’nai B’rith Shalom Unit. Her husband, Nahum, an aeronauticalengineer, was a friend of Ramon from the air force.

Carol Koransky remembered seeing Ramon at the GeneralAssembly of Jewish federations in Philadelphia this past December. Ramon satgood-naturedly through a program that ran on until midnight. When finallyintroduced to a much-dwindled audience, he came to the podium and said, “Goodmorning.” Then, Koransky said, he proceeded to astonish the audience with aheartfelt explanation of what his trip would mean to him as an astronaut and asa Jew.

For so many, Ramon was the poster boy for the ideal Jewishidentity. Two recently released surveys of American Jewish opinion found that66 percent of Jews believe anti-Semitism is the “greatest threat” to Jewishlife, 73 percent of Jews said caring about Israel was important. Half saidbeing Jewish is “very important” to them, while 41 percent said “being part ofthe Jewish people” defined their identity.

Here was Ilan Ramon to fill all those roles at once — awarrior, an Israeli, a proudly self-identified Jew who took a Torah and kiddushcup into space, a real-life mensch and a textbook hero.

The imagery of the catastrophe and its aftermath could havebeen a chapter from mythology. The heroes soaring through the heavens, theirfirey deaths as they sought to bring the secrets of the cosmos back to those ofus on Earth, the few sacrificing themselves for the many.

Not surprisingly, the memorials held in their honorthroughout the week, like President Bush’s initial announcement of thedisaster, shuttled effortlessly between the sacred and the mundane.

Ramon’s death was marked and mourned with such intensitybecause of how he lived his life, and because of how we dream of living ours.He asserted the importance of his Jewishness to his life’s mission,understanding that in serving his faith and his people, he was serving all ofhumanity; and in serving all humanity, he served his people.  

Israel Mourns

Even for Israelis hardened by years of dealing with
Palestinian terrorism, the death of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon came as a
difficult blow.

The weather itself seemed to reflect the national mood: A
thick, mustard-colored fog blanketed Israel on Sunday afternoon, a day after
Ramon and six other NASA astronauts were killed when the space shuttle Columbia
broke into pieces as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere.

Even in a nation used to trauma, the Columbia tragedy hit
especially close to home, said Naomi Baum, a psychologist at the Israel Center
for the Treatment of Psychotrauma.

“We identified with Ramon and his family, because we learned
so much about them in the past four years, and especially in the past two
weeks,” Baum said. “It hurt so much, because we developed an intimacy with him
and his family.”

“In many ways, the shuttle disaster and the loss of Ramon,
someone who represented so much of what was good about Israel, served to dredge
up a lot of the other trauma Israelis have gone through in the past few years,”
she added.

Ramon was Israel’s very own “right stuff” — Alan Shepard,
John Glenn and Yitzhak Rabin rolled into one. He was, many Israelis felt, the
best of the best: professional, brash, modest, handsome — and proud to be an
Israeli and a Jew.

“We felt he was our messenger to the great wide world,” Baum
said, “and now feel like a true friend and leader is lost.”

By Sunday, the hero’s welcome that Israel had planned for
its first astronaut had given way to mourning.

“Even for the world champions in watching disasters unfold
on television, this event was not quite like anything we know,” one commentator
wrote in the Ma’ariv newspaper.

Flags flew at half-staff and schools held special assemblies
to remember the 48-year-old Ramon. A memorial ceremony was held for the
astronaut at his former high school in Beersheba. Among those attending were
Ramon’s former classmates.

“Ilan was a hero, and yesterday afternoon he became a
legend,” former classmate Reuven Segev told current students at Mekif Gimel High

At Tel Aviv’s prestigious Herzliya Gymnasium, more than
1,000 teenagers attended a memorial service for Ramon. A hush fell over the
schoolyard as a student began to read from a poem Ramon’s wife, Rona, had sent
him while in orbit. The poem read:

“The last of my days is perhaps nigh/ Near is the day of
tears of separation/ But I will wait for thee till my life is extinguished, as
Rachel awaited her beloved.”

The students were captivated by the words, the drama and a
numbing pain with which they could all identify. The chatter picked up again,
until a husky voiced youth on stage began to sing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national

“Maybe we are cursed,” Eyal Oren, a 17-year-old student,
said afterward. “We can’t catch a break. Even the easy things are hard.”

Amid the tragedy, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed that Israel’s
space aspirations were not over, saying, “The day will come when we will launch
more Israeli astronauts into space. I am sure that each and every one of them
will carry in his heart the memory of Ilan Ramon, a pioneer in Israeli space

Speaking at the start of Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Sharon
also said the deaths of the Columbia astronauts Saturday morning were not in
vain. He extended condolences to the United States and the families of the
other six Columbia crew members.

Memorial books were opened for Ramon in Israeli consulates
around the world, an honor generally reserved only for heads of state.

After the Columbia disaster, President Bush phoned Sharon to
express condolences over the loss of Ramon, the father of four and a former air
force fighter pilot. Other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir
Putin and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, also expressed their
condolences to Sharon.

In Iraq, however, some felt the tragedy was divine justice.
Iraq’s official newspaper noted that one of the astronauts killed was a
“Zionist,” who had flown in Israel’s 1981 raid on an Iraqi nuclear reactor at

Car mechanic Mohammed Jaber Tamini in Iraq told news
agencies that Ramon’s death was retribution for his role in that raid. “Israel
launched an aggression on us when it raided our nuclear reactor without any
reason,” Tamini said. “Now time has come, and God has retaliated to their

The Jerusalem Post quoted some Palestinians offering similar

Security for the mission had been extremely tight, as officials
feared that terrorists might target the shuttle, because an Israeli was on
board. But officials were quick to rule out the possibility of terrorism in
Saturday’s tragedy.

Ramon’s participation in the 16-day scientific research
mission had been a boost for Israel’s national morale, which has been battered
by two years of Palestinian terrorism and a floundering economy.

“Ilan Ramon took the country to new heights,” said former
Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who was instrumental in arranging Ramon’s participation.

The launch was significant not just for Israel’s space
program but because the presence of Ramon, the child of a Holocaust survivor,
symbolized the Jewish people’s perseverance. Though secular, Ramon requested
kosher meals for the flight and took aboard a variety of ritual and symbolic

Among the items Ramon took into space was a tiny Torah
scroll that a 13-year-old boy received in Bergen-Belsen from the rabbi of
Amsterdam in order to study for his bar mitzvah. The boy, Yehoyahin Yosef, survived
the Holocaust, immigrated to Israel and went on to become a professor of
planetary physics — and was the person who oversaw the Israeli experiment on
board the shuttle to check the impact of dust on climate conditions.

Following the Columbia loss, the front pages of Israel’s
dailies had pictures of Ramon, looking straight at the camera, his hand raised
in a salute — or was it a farewell?

“Shards of the Dream” was the headline appearing in the
Israeli daily, Ma’ariv. The paper ran a full-page photo of burning debris from
Columbia streaming down to Earth. “Crying for Israel,” was Yediot Achronot’s

Ha’aretz commentator Ari Shavit described the pride Israelis
felt in sending “one of our own” into space, and the hope it gave the nation
that it could somehow “defy the gravity of its fate.” But he added, “That hope
keeps shattering.”

In an interview with Ma’ariv last month, Ramon minimized
fears about his safety, saying, “The chances an accident would happen in space
are very small. As far as safety is concerned, I’m not concerned at all.”

“In NASA, safety takes precedence over everything else,” he
added. “The shuttle has backup upon backup upon backup.”

Along with Ramon, the Columbia — which was on its 28th
mission — carried commander Rick Husband; pilot Willie McCool; mission
specialists Dave Brown, Laurel Clark and Kalpana Chawla; and payload commander
Mike Anderson.

When news of the disaster broke Saturday, members of Ramon’s
family, who were waiting at Cape Canaveral, were taken to a private location by
NASA officials. Members of the family who were still in Israel were flown to
the United States Saturday night.

Prior to their departure, they expressed disbelief over the
disaster. In an interview earlier Saturday, Ramon’s father, Eliezer Wolferman,
said he had exchanged e-mails with his son, and had last spoken to him via
video conferencing when he was still in Houston.

“It was very emotional,” Wolferman said. “Our family saw
him, and the children asked their dad to do somersaults in the air.”

Last Friday, Ramon sent his final e-mail to his wife. “Even
though everything here is amazing, I cannot wait until I can see you,” he
wrote, according to the Israeli daily, Yediot Achronot. “A big hug for you and
kisses to the kids.”

Rona Ramon told reporters Sunday outside her home in Houston
that her husband enjoyed every moment he was up in space. “He was with the
people he loved and in the place that he enjoyed so much,” she said.

She added that during the entire mission, she had no sense
of foreboding.

“The only thing that tears me apart now is that during the
liftoff, when we were all high, my youngest daughter yelled out, ‘I lost my
daddy.’ Apparently she was right.”

The Israel Defense Forces have set up an
e-mail address for the public to send condolence messages to Ramon’s family at

. p>

Where No Israeli Has Gone Before

For 25 years, Ilan Ramon strapped himself into fighter jets to help protect Israel. Soon, the air force colonel will have a chance to view his embattled homeland from a perspective never before seen by a sabra. Ramon, a 48-year-old father of four, is going into space.

"Every time you are the first, it’s meaningful," Ramon said during a preflight interview last week at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Probably the fact that I’m the son of a Holocaust survivor is even more symbolic [than usual]. I’m proof that even with all the hard times, we are going forward."

Ramon, who will be flying as a guest research scientist aboard the space shuttle Columbia, is scheduled to spend 16 days orbiting Earth with six career U.S. astronauts, including an Indian-born engineer and an African American payload commander.

Upon graduation from high school in Tel Aviv, Ramon was drafted into the military and attended flight training school. At 19, he was tapped to serve in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The danger, however, did nothing to quench his desire to fly.

"I love to fly," said Ramon, who became part of Israel’s first F-16 fighter squadron and served two stints as deputy commander for F-16 and F-4 squadrons. He sandwiched four years of college at Tel Aviv University in between his command posts, earning a bachelor’s of science degree. He earned the rank of colonel in 1994 and took control of the Weapon Development and Acquisition Department — a post he held until 1997 when a colleague called and asked him if he’d like to become an astronaut.

At first, Ramon thought the offer was a joke.

"When I was a kid growing up, nobody in Israel ever dreamed — well, most people wouldn’t dream — of being an astronaut, because it wasn’t on the agenda. So I never thought I would have been an astronaut," he said.

"I would like to see my mission as my first one, not my last," he added. — Irene Brown, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Double Identity

Vocalist Vanessa Paloma can not wait to sing at Fiesta Shalom on June 30. For the Angeleno, who performs Ladino music with her band, Flor de Serena, Fiesta Shalom, a celebration of her Jewish and Latin ethnicities, is a far cry from the mixed feelings she used to experience about carrying passports in both cultures.

"I always wanted to feel like I had a country," said Paloma, who grew up in Puerto Rico and Colombia, "I have a country in Israel, but at the same time, my heart is pained by what has happened in Colombia," she said, referring to the political unrest there.

Paloma’s cultural ambivalence is not uncommon among Jewish Latinas. For many of them, hailing from places such as Mexico, Brazil, Venezuala and Argentina, moving to Los Angeles was an important step in a personal journey to reconcile what it means to be Latina and Jewish.

The Jews of Central and South America have their roots in the Spanish Inquisition, when 1 million Jews fled Spain. Over a 150-year period, Sephardim immigrated to destinations such as North Africa and Europe. Jews accompanied Christopher Columbus when he sailed to the New World from the Port of Palos on Aug. 3, 1492 — the day after the issue of the Edict of Expulsion. Prominent Jewish colonies were established in Brazil as early as 1548, the majority of them in the Dutch zone of Bahia, where Jews could observe freely. Jewish immigration followed to French Guiana in Cayenne and continued through Central and South America, with larger communities forming in Cuba and Argentina.

In 1996, Paloma and Los Angeles found each other, and that’s when her Judaism came alive following a University of Judaism class. Further exploration led Paloma to Ohr HaTorah and to Israel, where she traced her family’s roots back to Catalunya, Spain.

"It was like coming back home," Paloma said of her year-long stay in Jerusalem. "I thought, Oh, my God we’re all the same here. We’re all wandering Jews. That was very powerful for me."

Claudia Sobran and Nina Katoni, Brazilian Jews, met at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

"There is a lot of things we have in common — language, the way to relate to people," Katoni said.

Both Katoni and Sobral grew up in Brazil, where there are approximately 160,000 Jews — about 120,000 in Sãn Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and the rest in the small yishuvim — Recife, Salvador, Belo Horizonte, Campinas.

Sobran grew up in Sãn Paulo feeling like a cultural pariah, but she maintained a Jewish connection through her mother, an executive assistant at a congregation. Katoni, an architect for Fox Studios, said it wasn’t easy growing up and dating Jewish men in Rio de Janeiro.

"It wasn’t very cool to be Jewish," said Katoni, 48, who grew up in a Zionist home and attended Rio’s Colegio Hebreu Brasileiro. "It was very difficult, the dichotomy of growing up Jewish in a Catholic country. Do you mix with the mainstream or do you maintain your traditions at home?"

Debi Mizrahi had a different experience, raised in a very Jewish enclave in Mexico City.

"I always went to a private Jewish school, and was not connected with Mexican culture at all," Mizrahi said. "It wasn’t till when I went to the University of Anthropology that I had connections with non- Jews."

Today, these Jewish Latinas have found solace in Los Angeles with mixed success. While Los Angeles does offer outlets where Jewish Latinas are embraced — Beverly Hills-based Sociedad Hebraica Latinoamericana, helmed by Martha Ziperovich; the Hispanic-Jewish Women’s Task Force, which will be honored at Fiesta Shalom — overall, living in Los Angeles has been an adjustment, where the culture is simultaneously more comfortable and more distant.

"It’s very hard," said Mizrahi, who on June 21, became an American citizen. A resident here since 1993 who married an Israeli, Mizrahi still grapples with the Jewish and Latina identities. Now add American to her list.

"On one hand, I feel very happy, but [on] another, I feel that I don’t belong here. Even relationships with friends are so different than what [I was] used to in Mexico. Much more close and much more in touch [there]; here more formality and privacy. That’s much harder for me."

Mizrahi stays connected with her Mexican side through cultural events and, to a lesser extent, the Americanized Mexican food. But she misses the close-knit Jewish community of her youth. Her girls, ages 8 and 5, enjoy speaking Spanish more than they do the Hebrew they learn through Chabad.

"I haven’t found a temple [where] I feel comfortable," Mizrahi said.

"Social action, tikkun olam — those are the things that really attracted me to the Jewish community," said Sobran, who connected after enrolling her children at the Silver Lake-Los Feliz Jewish Community Center. "As an immigrant, that really becomes very important. In the process, my Jewish identity became a lot stronger."

Katoni moved to Los Angeles in 1987, where she married her Israeli-born American husband. She found that "it was very interesting to come to America because over here, the Jewish values and culture is much more stronger. I think I’ve given up some of my Brazilian cultural values for raising my children in America," such as the Portuguese language, which her 12-year-old daughter and 8-year-old twins have not picked up. "Except for the music and going back to visit my parents and some foods, I don’t have anything that I brought with me."

Paloma, on the other hand, has found some cultural balance.

"I love arepas and watching soccer and speaking Spanish and Latin music," Paloma said. "But I also love that it’s so multicultural. That’s what I really love about Los Angeles"

She no longer craves to belong to just one place or culture.

"In a way there’s a completion of a circle," Paloma continued. "I don’t feel this bipolar feeling of being American and Colombian. I cook kosher Colombian at home. I’m more observant than my family. It has really come together in the last few years. It was very difficult, because I didn’t know where I came from. It’s about finding my place. I feel I am Jewish and American and Latina separately and together."