Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

Twenty Years without Ilan Ramon

As we mark 20 years this week since the Columbia disaster, it is important to pause and pay tribute to Ilan Ramon (1954-2003) and what he stood for.  If one person could sum up the achievements and values of the Jewish State, and illustrate just how far Israel has come, that individual is Ilan Ramon.

Ilan Ramon (1954-2003). Illustration (c)Tuvia Book, 2023

Ramon was born in the first decade of the States’ existence. His mother and grandmother were both survivors of Auschwitz and arrived in Israel to rebuild their shattered lives. His father fought in the War of Independence to allow his family to live in peace and security in the new Jewish State. Colonel Ramon, during his service in the Israeli air force, when asked if he would take part in a mission to bomb Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 responded:

If I can help prevent a second Holocaust, I am prepared to sacrifice my life for this.

Ramon not only successfully completed this mission, but also became the first Israeli in space. His mission was deeply symbolic, as were many of the items he took with him into space, including a Torah Scroll that had been in Bergen-Belsen and a copy of a pencil sketch, Moon Landscape, drawn by 16-year-old Petr Ginz, who was murdered in Auschwitz.  Ilan Ramon’s mission symbolized that Israel can go anywhere. He reminded us that we have revived our language, made the desert bloom, rebuilt our homeland, ingathered our exiles. That we have the ability to defend our homeland and protect Jews worldwide and we continue to reach for the stars.  When Ramon was flying over Israel he wrote, “with huge joy and honour,” a letter from space:

This morning we flew over Israel. I clearly saw Jerusalem and during the time I looked at our capital I recited a small prayer: “Hear O Israel, we are working for the good of humanity.  From space our whole world looks like one unit without borders. Therefor, I want to call from above, let us work together for peace and for a better life for everyone in the world.

“I think we have a great people in Israel, and we have to maintain our Jewish heritage,” he said in an address from the shuttle Columbia in space. “I think it’s very important to preserve our historical and religious traditions.” On carrying the Torah into space, he said:

This scroll symbolizes, more than anything, the ability of the Jewish people to survive anything, including horrible periods, and go from the darkest days to days of hope and faith in the future.

May his memory and that of his son Assaf, who was killed in an Air Force training accident, be for a blessing and an inspirational example to us all! A fitting eulogy for such a selfless hero can be found in the words of another hero of the Jewish people, Chana Szenesh:

There are stars whose radiance is visible on earth though they have long been extinct.

There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living.

These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark.

They light the way for mankind.

Ilan Ramon’s grave at Moshav Nahalal (c) Wikki Commons, public domain, 2023

This article contains extracts from my book,For the Sake of Zion.” (Koren: 2017). 

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order: