On Sunday, just 5 minutes before starting to teach a new Talmud Torah course by the name of “Israeli Dilemmas” I received an email from my brother in Israel which made my whole body shiver. It said, “In case you haven’t heard yet, Asaf Ramon, son of Ilan Ramon ZL, was killed earlier today while flying his F16”.
I stared at my PDA for a few seconds refusing to believe, hoping that this was some kind of an extremely tasteless prank. Unfortunately, the horrible news was true.
Asaf, 21, who only 3 months ago completed with honors the lengthy and prestigious army training course to become a combat pilot, was the son of the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who was killed 6 years ago when his space shuttle, Columbia, was destroyed while re-entering the atmosphere.
Ilan became a national hero not just in Israel but all over the world. His son followed in his footsteps, not only in life but also in death. Israel, as a whole, mourned the life of this talented, charming young man, and stood speechless at the unbearable grief of the devastated family. When he was put to rest, next to his father’s grave, his mother, now a widow and a bereaved mother, said: “Don’t ask me to be strong again”.
Other than touching so many homes and hearts, Asaf’s unexpected death raised an old Israeli debate: should sons to families who already lost a member to war, be allowed to serve as combat soldiers? In Israel, if you are an only child or if your family is bereaved, if you wish to volunteer to “Sherut Kravi” = serving in an elite unit, then your parents (often it is just the mother, as the father is the one who was killed in action) must grant you special permission. Only then is the army entitled to allow you to serve as a combat soldier, a pilot and other high-risk army duties. Rona Ramon, being proud of her motivated son and not wanting to spoil his dreams, allowed him to attempt and fulfill himself as an Israeli Air force pilot. Many in Israel argue that such a decision should not be left in the hands of the parents, who often find themselves unable to resist their son’s passion and pressure. Others say that the decision should be left for the young men themselves, as they are old and mature enough to determine their faith.
Whether the current procedure is changed or not, there is no doubt that this tragedy reflects circumstances that are unique to Israel. As an army officer described it – “this is it part of the price we have to pay for living in this wonderful country”.