Assaf's death shocks Houston Jews

Community rabbi says news brought back memories of Ilan Ramon dying in Columbia explosion.

The death of Assaf Ramon came as a terrible blow to the Houston Jewish community, in which the Ramon family was quite involved. The Ramons moved to the city when Ilan Ramon was selected by NASA to be part of the Columbia space shuttle team. The Ramons were well liked and quickly adopted by the community. Their rabbi, Stuart Federow, said on Sunday the news was unbelievable and brought back many memories from six years ago, when Ilan died in the Columbia explosion. "You have to understand that the NASA community is very small, especially when you limit it to the Jewish community inside the NASA community," Federow said. "It really felt like a member of our family died." Assaf is remembered as charming, brilliant and athletic. He played fullback for the football team at Clear Lake High School and was popular with his peers. Zachary Remmick and Assaf became friends at the school when Assaf moved to Houston in 1998. Remmick said the Israeli boy fumbled the ball a lot, but had a very competitive nature, which he credits for Assaf's success in the IAF. The brother of a close school friend of Assaf's, Itamar Birnbaum, said, "He was a superstar. He followed in his dad's footsteps." Max Rabinovich, a senior at the University of Texas, attended the Greene Family Camp with Assaf and his siblings. He recalls Ilan Ramon visiting the camp and talking to the kids and just hanging out. Rabinovich said Assaf never made a big deal about his dad being an astronaut, but was like every other teenager at camp. He washed his face several times a day for fear of getting acne, and was a "lady's guy." Community leaders remember the Ramon family fondly. In 2003, Congregation Beth Yeshurun held a memorial service for Ilan Ramon and the six other astronauts who died alongside him, that was attended by more than 1,000 people. Rabbi David Rosen said that "because of Ilan's connection to the Jewish community, we of course recognize his unique place in our community and that of his family." People remembered Assaf's attentiveness toward his mother after his father died, as well as the bonds that strengthened within the Ramon family. Linda Burger, the CEO of Jewish Family Service of Houston, couldn't believe the news on Sunday. "What a family, what a fate," she said.