MIAMI – The death of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon in the space shuttle Columbia disaster created a dilemma for members of the Jewish faith: It happened on the Sabbath when Jews are prohibited from mourning.
When Sabbath ended at sundown Saturday, some synagogues planned a special ceremony called a Havdalah, to remember Ramon. But others couldn't wait to begin the mourning process for the 48-year-old Israeli air force colonel.
Shortly after news that the Columbia had disintegrated, killing all seven astronauts on board, Rabbi Melvin Glazer read the vidui, the traditional confessional prayer usually recited on one's death bed, to the congregation at Miami's Beth David Synagogue.
"It's assumed all of the astronauts were lost," he said, as cries of grief rang through the synagogue.
Worshippers at morning prayer at Temple Shir Shalom in Oakland County's West Bloomfield Township outside Detroit observed a moment of silence.
"Everyone is devastated," said Rabbi Michael Moskowitz. "Space travel is such an incredible miracle we take for granted because it usually goes so peacefully, and in an instant, our world is rocked."
Ramon, a veteran of two Israeli wars and the son of a Holocaust survivor, was not particularly religious but decided to eat kosher food in orbit, saying before the flight that he wanted "to respect all kinds of Jews all over the world."
"This man had lived through so many dangerous missions," said Elisheva Rogoff, 32, of Miami Beach. "To come through all of that unscathed and to die in this? It is really shocking."
At the orthodox Etz Jacob Congregation in Los Angeles, those attending the synagogue were told of the disaster, but most did not watch television broadcasts of it.
Hertzel Calasazan, 45, a former parachutist for the Israeli army, said he knew Ramon.
"He was a great symbol for Israel and for the Jews. He helped Israel show the world that it could do more things than fighting," the clothing manufacturer said.
In Woodland Hills, Calif., Rabbi Jeffrey Ronald of Kol Tikvah Temple said Ramon and the rest of the astronauts should be celebrated for their accomplishments, not mourned.
"While billions of us struggled this week for life and meaning upon the land's surface, a handful of lucky explorers were privileged to enjoy that lofty perspective." Ronald said.
Rabbi Arthur Ruberg of Congregation Beth El in Hampton Roads, Va., said the tragedy is just another link that Americans share with Israelis.
"We have been allies," Ruberg said. "We rejoice together and now we mourn together.