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Remembering heroes, honoring diversity

Local synagogue commemorates 10th anniversary of Columbia shuttle explosion with unique memorial ser

Posted: February 2, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 2, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Noa Assa, front, along with fellow students from the Mekif Alef High School in Beer Sheva, Israel, place flowers on a gate in front of the Space Mirror Memorial during a remembrance ceremony on the 10th anniversary of the loss of space shuttle Columbia crew at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, on Friday, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. A few ...


Last night a local Jewish synagogue honored the brave men and women who lost their lives in the Columbia space shuttle accident 10 years ago. The shuttle’s crew represented men and women of different nationalities and cultures, but also represented a diverse group of different faiths.

The memorial service held at Temple Beth Ami commemorated the 10th anniversary of the explosion, with a special service dedicated to their memory. During the service special poems were read, unique space exploration memorabilia was displayed and significant songs were sung.

A diverse crew

Seven astronauts, who were united for a common goal of space exploration and scientific advancement, were aboard Columbia on Feb. 2, 2003. Michael Anderson, the mission specialist, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Ilan Ramon, Commander Rick Husband and pilot William McCool, represented seven different religious backgrounds.

They came from Baptist, Episcopalian, Unitarian Universalist, Hindu with Sikh ancestry, Jewish, Charismatic Christian and Roman Catholic faiths. Arguably, no other group could have been more diverse in terms of religious beliefs than the crew of Columbia.

“This is a chance for us to reflect on the heroism and bravery of the astronauts,” said Rabbi Mark Blazer. “It represents diversity of what makes this country great. They represented the highest ideals for knowledge and expanding the understanding of the universe.”

Blazer, a long time friend of Ramon’s, the first and only Israeli astronaut, attended the launch in 2003. He recalls the excitement of the lift off, the relief of a successful launch and the later devastation following the explosion.

A piece of foam broke during blast off and struck Columbia’s wing. The debris punched a hole in the shuttle’s heat shield leaving the shuttle unable to withstand the extreme temperature during re-entry.

“We thought everything was behind us,” Blazer said. “It was shocking when the explosion happened and everything was not OK.”

United under many faiths

The synagogue, which still features a signed poster of Ramon in the hallway, also honored the astronauts with the song “Oseh Shalom.” The song was played 10 years ago at the launch, Blazer recalled.

“It means one who makes peace in the heavens; it’s an idea of harmony and balance to the universe,” he said. “It encapsulates what Ilan told me — the message of being in space is a message of hope.”

Ten years ago, following the shuttle tragedy, Temple Beth Ami held a memorial service for the seven astronauts. Taking inspiration from the diverse faith backgrounds of the crew, the synagogue invited clergy from different faiths to participate in honoring the astronauts. Friday’s service followed in the spirit of the first memorial by remembering the astronauts and honoring their different faiths.

“This was a way for people of different backgrounds and beliefs to work together,” Blazer said of the space mission. “Our different faiths don’t have to separate us. We can have different belief systems and achieve the same goals together.”


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