GRAPEVINE: Remembering Assaf

From a national tragedy to a Rabbi who provides medical help for the needy.

Assaf Ramon (right) stands with then-president Shimon Peres during his graduation ceremony at Hatzerim air base, southern Israel, in June 2009 (photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
Assaf Ramon (right) stands with then-president Shimon Peres during his graduation ceremony at Hatzerim air base, southern Israel, in June 2009
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
Not everyone is capable of turning personal tragedy into something for the common good. After her husband, Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, together with six other crew members of Space Shuttle Columbia, was killed in February 2003, when the spaceship disintegrated on reentry to earth, Rona Ramon was left with the painful decision of whether to allow her son Assaf to follow in his father’s footsteps to become a fighter pilot in the Israel Air Force. In September 2009, Assaf, who had graduated the pilot’s course with honors and was the captain of an F-16 fighter plane, was killed in a training flight accident. He was 21 years old. Instead of wallowing in selfpity, Rona Ramon in 2010 created the Ramon Foundation in memory of her husband and son, with the aim of enabling every child to fulfill his or her dreams. This was how she and Ilan had raised their children, and she wanted give other children the opportunity to reach for the sky.
The foundation, which is directed by strategic consultant Ran Livne, with the help of many partners, supports and operates numerous projects in Israel and the United States, especially those geared to space, aviation, innovation and entrepreneurship. It also encourages responsibility to the community through involvement in community projects and activities, and personal excellence through academic achievement.
Various enterprises in Israel have been named for Ilan and Assaf – most recently the Ramon International Airport, which was officially inaugurated this past July with an Arkia flight, and will soon be open to the general public.
Another Ramon project Beit Assaf (Assaf House), a pre-army preparatory facility, is on the immediate horizon, and on Tuesday, September 4, the cornerstone ceremony will be held in Mitzpe Ilan with the participation of President Reuven Rivlin, who intends to be there, despite doctor’s orders that he ease up on his activities while being treated with intravenous antibiotics for a flu virus. Naturally, Rona Ramon, who is president of the Ramon Foundation, will also be present, as will Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael- Jewish National Fund chairman Daniel Atar, Construction Minister Yoav Galant, and Menashe Regional Council head Ilan Sadeh. Also present will be NASA astronauts Garrett Reisman, Mike Massimino and Leyland Melvin.
After the Ramon Foundation had raised NIS 2 million toward construction of Beit Assaf, KKL France, under the leadership of Robert Zvilli and with the blessing of KKL-JNF in Israel, contributed an additional NIS 2.5m., making it possible for construction to begin. Beit Assaf is part of One of Ours, which has been operating since 2011, and is specifically directed at young 12th-graders from peripheral areas as well as youth at risk to give them the opportunity to serve the nation, rise to high ranks in the army and to integrate fully into mainstream society.
■ FRANCE’S SECRETARY of State for Digital Affairs Mounir Mahjoubi will be among the many visitors from abroad participating in the three-day DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival which opens on September 5 and will take place at different venues in the city. Mahjoubi, who was the digital point man for Emmanuel Macron during the latter’s presidential campaign, is now his country’s expert on start-ups. While in Israel, he will deliver several lectures, including at least one together with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.
■ DIAMONDS ARE a girl’s best friend, sang Marilyn Monroe in the screen adaptation of the book by Anita Loos Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Curiously, despite all the millennium transformations in products, attitudes and lifestyles, diamonds continue to be a girl’s best friend, especially when they’re unusual and large in size.
Certainly any girl looking for a “best friend” would have found it in the tower of the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange last week, when the Rotem family, headed by Boaz Rotem, unveiled their new winter collection, which includes a superb pink diamond valued at around NIS 2m. It was one of several unique diamonds featured in a display at the new season pre-Rosh Hashanah reception hosted by senior members of the 50-year-old company for Diamond Exchange colleagues and buyers.
■ IF THE names of the performing artists at an evening devoted to honoring the memories of murdered Yiddish writers have a Russian-sounding ring to them, it’s because most of them are actually immigrants from the former Soviet Union, where on August 12, 1952, 13 Yiddish poets who had been falsely accused of trying to undermine or destroy the Soviet Union were executed at the notorious Lubyanka prison in Moscow.
At an evening dedicated to them, Leyvik House in Tel Aviv will host a memorial event on Wednesday evening, September 12, under the title of “Their song remains with us.” Following a historical overview of what led to the execution of 13 out of 15 people charged, folksinger Polina Belizovsky, baritone Dmitri Danovsky and violinist Alex Moldavsky will present appropriate Yiddish works.
Many of the performers in Yiddish theater and Yiddish cabaret came to Israel from the former Soviet Union.
Some knew a smattering of Yiddish beforehand, but most developed their Yiddish in Israel, as they began absorbing different aspects of the Jewish heritage, which for decades had been denied to Soviet Jews. Some of them learned Yiddish at Leyvik House, where evening classes for people in the 18-40 age group are conducted on Tuesday nights between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.
■ THERE IS something special about the Beit Harav Kook Synagogue in Jerusalem’s downtown area, which will be enhanced even more by the presence of the Solomon Brothers, who will lead the services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The three-member group hails from Moshav Meor Modi’im. Because the Rav Kook Synagogue is relatively small, preregistration is required.
Tickets for students and soldiers are NIS 200, for adults NIS 400, and for families NIS 1,000. Reservations can be made at (03) 623-2560. For details call Rabbi Itzchak Even Shays at 054-819-2391.
■ AFTER ALL the hullabaloo about recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the relocation to Jerusalem of the US Embassy and the embassies of Guatemala and Paraguay, two major events are taking place not in Jerusalem but in Tel Aviv during Israel’s 70th anniversary year.
One is the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations October 22-24 at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, and the other is the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting immediately afterward on October 24-25. Presumably, Tel Aviv was chosen because it was in Tel Aviv that David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, proclaimed the establishment of the state.
Both the GA and the BoG will deal with the Israel-Diaspora relationship.
Some of the other issues that the GA will deal with include collective impact, Jewish identity, Israeli Arabs, women power, philanthropy, the turbulent Middle East, and trailblazing in health technology. GA co-chairmen are Danna Azrieli and Marius Nacht. Speakers include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, Bella Abrahams, corporate affairs director of Intel Israel, Israel Prize laureate Miriam Peretz, and entrepreneur Irina Nevzlin (who also chairs the board of directors of Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People and happens to be married to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein).
In addition to plenary sessions, workshops and tours, there will also be a couple of select events that will be open only to members of the Prime Minister’s Council. One of these events will be a cocktail reception at the US Embassy in Jerusalem, hosted by US Ambassador David Friedman.
The Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting will be the first to be headed by Herzog instead of Natan Sharansky.
■ EZRA LEMARPEH, the NGO health organization founded by Rabbi Elimelech Firer, is celebrating 40 years of providing medical assistance to the needy. In this case, needy does not necessarily mean financially distressed. Literally thousands of people have been helped by Firer, who though an ordained rabbi, has very little secular education, but has over the years become an expert in an extraordinary number of medical ailments, knowing exactly which physician in which hospital in which country to call when people turn to him for help. Ezra Lemarpeh services are free of charge, and each case is handled with sensitivity and respect for the dignity of the patient.
In recognition of his exceptional dedication to the well-being of other people – most of them total strangers – Firer has been awarded the Israel Prize.
In light of all that it does, the organization cannot function without financial support, which is why friends of Ezra Lemarpeh are getting together on Wednesday, September 5, for a gala fund-raising concert at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv.
The event is chaired by businessman and philanthropist Ami Sagy, and master of ceremonies will be television personality Eyal Kitzis. Among the entertainers will be Avraham Tal, Eli Yatzpan, Yehoram Gaon, Tzvika Hadar, Kobi Oshrat, and Shlomo Gronich.