Space center dedicated in Arab-Israeli city drops Ramon’s name

A space center that opened in the Arab-Israeli city of Taybeh was not named for the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon following opposition from city residents.

The Taybeh Space Center was dedicated Tuesday. It was to be called the Ilan Ramon Space Center. Instead, under the name of the center it will be inscribed, “To perpetuate the memory of astronaut Ilan Ramon.”

Arab-Israeli Knesset member Ahmed Tibi led the opposition to the naming of the space center for Ramon, who died aboard the space shuttle Columbia when it crashed upon re-entry in February 2003.

Tibi, who lives in Taybeh, said in June that the Arab community would be upset with the dedication because during his service in the Israeli military, Ramon bombed civilian populations in Arab states. Ramon was a fighter pilot during the first Lebanon war and also flew in the 1981 airstrike on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor.

“Dedicating a center in his honor in an Arab community is a tasteless and unjustified move,” Tibi said in a letter to Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz in June.

Hershkowitz at the dedication said that Ramon was the only Israeli astronaut and the center was established in his memory.

“I believe this center can increase cooperation and fraternity between Israelis and Arabs, and make science accessible to the entire population while narrowing the gaps in the Israeli society,” he said.

The center is funded by the Prime Minister's Office and the Ramon Foundation, as well as the Taybeh municipality.

From Heschel to Ramon

Heschel West Day School in Agoura Hills is changing its name to honor Israel’s first astronaut.

During a Kabbalat Shabbat filled with song and dance on June 3, school leaders announced that the entity will be known as Ilan Ramon Day School beginning in September. As such, it becomes the first known school in the country to make its namesake the astronaut who was killed during the space shuttle Columbia’s fatal 2003 mission, according to Yuri Hronsky, head of school.

“He, as a person, is … both an Israeli and an American hero,” Hronsky said. “He embodied a lot of the values that we hold dear: family, community, discovery, love for learning, Judaism,” Hronsky added. “He believed in the seeking of the undiscovered potential of the world, which is what science is about, in the same way we sort of look on every child — that our job is to work toward the undiscovered potential of every child.”

The renaming comes as the school kicks off the celebration of its 18th anniversary. It also makes good on a promise the founders made to eventually change the name it took after school leaders at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge helped them start the Conejo Valley school in 1994.

While the two schools were always independent, the Heschel board made its head of school available to get Heschel West off the ground and implement curriculum, Hronsky said.

“When we hit our 18th year this year, we sort of looked at it as a really opportune moment to step out with a new identity,” he said.

And if there was ever any confusion between the two schools in the past, there is no need to worry about that anymore.

“Each school really will have its own clear identity and will be able to move forward in very positive ways,” said Betty Winn, head of school at Heschel in Northridge, which is entering its 40th year. “I think that it’s a great time for both schools. … It’s just kind of a coming of age for everybody.”

Heschel West leaders created a committee late last year to begin the search for a new name. They conducted extensive interviews and surveys with past and present students, their families and community members to help divine how the school and its values were perceived and how that might be reflected in a name. In May, they decided on Ramon.

The son of a Holocaust survivor, Ramon was 48 when he lifted off into space as part of the crew of the Columbia, which broke apart over Texas during re-entry into the atmosphere. The Israel Air Force pilot was a payload specialist involved with numerous scientific experiments.

Students wear wristbands with the schools new name.

“I think the new name really stands for how we can move forward in new frontiers, new beginnings, uncharted territories, and still hold true to who we are,” said Bruce M. Friedman, president of the school’s board of directors and the father of one student and one alumnus.

“We’re educating children today for yet-to-be-defined careers, yet-to-be-defined industries, yet-to-be-defined challenges, and our new name symbolizes our core faith in ethics, morals, in values, but still speaks to how we will prepare our kids to meet the challenges of the future.”

Hronsky stressed that while the name of the National Blue Ribbon Award-winning school has changed, nothing else has altered.

“Same school. New name,” he said.

Heschel West has 150 students who range from 2-year-olds to fifth-graders. That’s an increase from 118 students last year, before it added a preschool, but below its 160 students in fall 2008.

“The school went through several years of struggling,” Hronsky said. “The parents at our school, a lot of them were in businesses that got really hammered, and it became financially harder for families, and the school was financially challenged for a few years.”

Tuition ranges from around $4,000 for the youngest children to $19,000 for the oldest. Last year, the school gave up on long-held plans to build a new campus in Agoura Hills, which was opposed by some residents, because it was no longer in its strategic interests, Friedman said.

Now, leaders remain squarely focused on the future. Shelly Hiskey, who has two children at the school and is co-president of the parent organization, said she’s not only thrilled with the choice of the new name, but she’s particularly happy with the organic process from which it came. It raised good questions about the institution, she said.

“What does our school stand for? What are the points that we cherish? What are the things that we want our children to learn at school?”

Still, Hiskey admits that it’s hard to let go of the old name.

“Imagine changing your child’s name after 18 years,” she said. “People have been used to that name, and it served our school well.”

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.

Astronaut Ilan Ramon’s son dies in IAF crash

The son of the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon was killed in the crash of an Israeli Air Force fighter plane.

Capt. Assaf Ramon, 20, died Sunday while flying the F-16 aircraft as part of advanced training. He had completed the 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 Air Force ordered all F-16 training halted until further notice. The plane crashed in the Hebron Hills.

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

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.

World Briefs

Ramon Memorial Service Held

A state memorial service for Israel’s first astronaut was
held at an air force base near Ben-Gurion Airport. A plane carrying Col. Ilan
Ramon’s remains from the United States landed Monday and was taken to the base
for the ceremony. Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon were among those participating in the service.

“Your pain is the pain of the whole nation,” Sharon told the
Ramon family at the service. A private burial service, attended by Ramon’s
family and close friends, will be held Tuesday at Nahalal, a moshav in northern
Israel located near an air base where Ramon served.

Court Leaves Way Open for Sharon

Belgium’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon cannot be tried while in office for alleged war crimes,
but left open the possibility of a trial once he steps down. The court upheld Sharon’s
diplomatic immunity, but did say that charges could be brought against
nonresidents of Belgium. That means that there could be further legal moves
once Sharon retires. The court also ruled that investigations could proceed
against former Israeli army commander Amos Yaron, who was also named in the
original complaint filed with Belgian prosecutors two years ago.

Expanded Benefits for Some

Some Holocaust survivors will receive an increase in
compensation payments as a result of an agreement negotiated Wednesday by the
Claims Conference with the German government. The Article 2 Fund, which
currently pays more than 46,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors in 40 countries,
will now distribute monthly payments of approximately $290, up from about $275,
according to the Claims Conference. Monthly payments from the Central and
Eastern European Fund, which pays 16,000 people in 23 countries, will increase
from about $137 to $145.

The programs are administered by the Claims Conference on
behalf of the German government. The negotiations also led to the expansion of
eligibility criteria for the two programs. As a result, some 4,000 additional
survivors, including some people from Romania, Hungary and some Western
European countries, may now get compensation.

Storm Over Quebec Jewish Magazine

The publisher of a Canadian Jewish magazine called Montreal
a “fascist and totalitarian” city because of recent anti-Semitic and
anti-Israeli incidents. Ghila Sroka, publisher and editor of Quebec’s
French-language Tribune Juive, wrote in the magazine’s recent issue  the cover
of which read “Montreal: Capital of Palestine” that the city’s facade of
open-mindedness hides a dark side of anti-Semitism in the trade unions,
universities and media. Her comments were criticized both within and without
the Jewish community.

“We don’t think that Quebec is fascist or anti-Semitic,”
said Joseph Gabay, president of the Quebec region of the Canadian Jewish
Congress. But Gabay did admit that the community was witnessing acts of
anti-Semitism. “It’s scary, it’s becoming worrying. Nobody is hiding,” he said,
but “the Jewish community cannot stay quiet. There is an ill-smelling smoke
over the city and over the country.”

Quebec Premier Bernard Landry and Montreal Mayor Gerald
Tremblay both said Sroka crossed a line. “Her language is clearly excessive and
unjust for Montreal. It saddens me and I hope that in other texts, her issues
will be more measured and in-line,” said Landry, who added that he considers
Sroka a friend.

A spokesman for Tremblay said, “We must wish that people
make efforts to not uselessly aggravate situations and conflicts that are
already quite complex.”

One-third of Tribune Juive’s funding comes from the Quebec
government and the separatist Parti Quebecois.

Changes in Mideast Panel

There are several new faces on the Mideast subcommittee of
the U.S. House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee. The
subcommittee make up, announced Tuesday, now includes new members Nick Smith
(R-Mich.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Thaddeus G. McCotter (R-Mich.), William Janklow
(R-S.D.), Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.) and Katherine Harris (R-Fla.). Chris Bell of Texas
is the only new Democrat on the panel. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) will
replace retired Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) as chair of the panel, and Rep.
Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) will remain the ranking minority member. Reps. Brad
Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks.) and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) left the panel to become
ranking minority members of other subcommittees.

Briefs Courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.