We cannot let the dream die

It should have been a time of rejoicing. It should have been a time of pride for us as Americans and as Jews. It should have been a moment of light during a dark period for Israel and for the world.

After more than 28 months of renewed violence in the Mideast, combined with the horrors of Sept. 11, the recession and the near-certainty of war with Iraq, we were ready for good news.

Sadly, as we awakened on Shabbat, yet another tragedy greeted us. And this time it struck home on a deeper level because Col. Ilan Ramon was one of us.

Along with Jews around the world, we had been eagerly awaiting the entry of the first Israeli into space. Finally, after many delays, there he was, carrying sacred objects of our faith, items rescued from the Holocaust, into space. The photos and the news conference filled us with a level of pride many of us hadn't experienced since Israel's victories in 1967 and 1973.

Now, in the words of Ecclesiastes, it is a time to mourn again. But it is also a time to honor the memories of seven brave astronauts — six Americans and an Israeli who pushed the boundaries of our world to take on the challenges of the universe. Now we must honor those memories not simply through our tears or even our prayers but by our actions.

During his conversation from space with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Ramon 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 is coordinating a massive effort to bring that vision to fruition.

Closer to home, the Chabad Jewish Community Center of the Space Coast in Florida is raising funds for a new Torah to replace the Holocaust-era scroll that Ramon carried into space. The group plans to present the Torah to Ramon's family in April, in time for his son Tal's bar mitzvah.

Ramon and the six Americans who lost their lives had dreams. It is now up to us to keep those dreams alive, in memory of those who challenged the perimeters of nation and Earth.