The death of Rona Ramon on Monday– the widow of Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut who died in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster and whose son Asaf was killed in the crash of an Israel Air Force plane in 2009 – is first and foremost the latest in a series of tragedies for her family. It prompts empathy and deep pain in anyone capable of feeling anything.
Even ahead of her role as grieving wife and mother, ahead of the philanthropic activity and educational projects that she undertook, hers is the case of an Israeli family that repeatedly had to face hellish human loss. In addition, the huge sacrifice suffered by her family transformed Rona Ramon into probably one of the only people who could bring Israelis from different and even opposing camps together.
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At the news of her death, I found myself by chance with my Likudnik father. Unfortunately we hadn’t managed in the past to respond in a similar fashion to any news event (recalling Ehud Banai and Daklon’s song lyrics: “What for you is a dream, for me is a horror”). But my father and I were both very upset over the news of Rona Ramon’s death. How many figures are capable of prompting such a reaction in two people who are close to being enemies?
In the face of the outpouring of national kitsch that reached flood proportions, such that it prompted suspicions of cynicism, came the backlash. The signs of it can be seen in the marginal placement that the news of Rona Ramon’s death received on the front page of Tuesday’s Haaretz Hebrew edition, as if any event that involves emotion is disqualified as hard news, and as evidenced by what Haaretz writer Rogel Alpher wrote, complaining about the religiosity and messianism in the coverage of her death.
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A day after her death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 54, a woman who had lost her husband and son, what Alpher found to be the most burning issue to write about regarding Rona Ramon was that headlines in other papers about her going to heaven would encourage suicides.
It’s possible and proper to go beyond the obvious. Anything can be judged with a critical eye or via a specific agenda, and it is certainly appropriate to decry the exploitation of tragic incidents. But where is that step along the way, the stage in which we stop for a moment in silence and simply feel the grief, in empathy and respect? Where is this modest place where we can experience our feelings for a moment as human beings?
The reaction of those who shun the grief over Ramon’s death doesn’t involve restraint and rationality, but rather an arrogance cut off from reality, but which still has an emotional dimension. Such childish defiance has been growing in the face of the rising influence of fascism in Israeli society, in the face of racist and violent developments and the destruction of democracy. I would say to those people that reality drives people crazy and that is what is happening to them.
This backlash only deepens the rifts in the country, knocking down those who are capable of belonging to the democratic and secular camp but who still wish to feel solidarity of some kind with their fellow countrymen, and who refuse to be estranged from them or from other human emotions. These are people who do not hate the stranger, who don’t force religion on others, who don’t behave violently, but who nevertheless allow themselves to be sad, and yes, even a bit sentimental at times. People like Rona Ramon, for example.