The groundswell of emotion in response to Ilan Ramon's death has not only been a great inspiration for American Jews, it also has helped strengthen the bond Americans feel for Israel.
"It's a state of mourning for the whole nation. Our school is no different," said Joseph "J.P." Schwarcz, 18, a Yeshiva University freshmanin New York.
At the same time, Schwarcz was quick to note the distinct status of Israel's representative on board, Ramon, as a role model for Jews.
"Throughout the whole week, our deans have come into our class and discussed with us how we should be just like Ilan Ramon," he said.
In mourning the tragic flight of the whole Columbia crew, Jews across America are especially touched by the loss of Ramon. Whether Jews saw him as pioneer or peacemaker, most saw him as the best of the Jewish people.
That sentiment is evident across the country from memorial services, e-mail and written messages to Ramon's family, and actions taken after the disaster.
In a televised conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from space, Ramon had said, "I call upon every Jew in the world to plant a tree in the land of Israel during the coming year."
Now, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) is coordinating a massive effort to fulfill Ramon's request. The JNF received some 1,000 calls for about 3,000 trees on Monday alone, an all-time record of unsolicited calls, according to the group's CEO, Russell Robinson.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has set up a fund in memory of the space shuttle Columbia astronauts. The fund will be used to encourage the study of math and science in Los Angeles and Israeli schools (for information, contact (323) 761-8000).
U.S. Rep Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the House majority leader, reinforced the view that the tragedy is bringing Americans closer to Israel when he addressed a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) in Boca Raton, Fla., on Saturday night.
"I can think of no two nations that are so connected by so many timeless truths. We are kindred nations and tonight we are siblings in mourning," said the lawmaker, who returned to the RJC event after flying home to Houston after the shuttle disaster.
At the Yeshiva University memorial, a slide show presentation laced with music from the movie "Apollo 13" and a tearful Jewish ballad, underscored the American-Israeli connection.
David Weinberg, 21, the Yeshiva junior who created it, imposed his words over images of George Bush and the exploded shuttle: "This mission saw the dreams and hopes of two nations fuse together."
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