Grapevine: Inspiring in life and in death

Rona Ramon established a relationship with current President Reuven Rivlin, whom she asked to give the address for the laying of the Beit Assaf cornerstone in memory of her son last September.

Rona Ramon
Even in death Rona Ramon contributed to national awareness. Admittedly, over the years many thousands of people have visited the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. But many more have not. By designating the center as her last resting place before cremation, Ramon brought it to the attention of people who otherwise would never have gone to the landmark in Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood.
Adults and children from across the country came to pay their last respects – people who knew her well, and people who had never matter her; people who were religious and people who were secular; dignitaries with international profiles and people who were known only to their families and to a very small number of friends and acquaintance. What they all had in common was their admiration for a woman who was inspirational in choosing life after enduring two traumatic losses of loved ones, living life to the full and paving a path for others to do the same, particularly school children from peripheral areas and low-income backgrounds whom she encouraged to dream and to realize their potential by making those dreams come true.
Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, shared much of her vision – or more accurately, they shared each other’s vision for a better Israel and a better world. Peres had a special affinity for the Israel Air Force in which his son Chemi had served as a pilot for 10 years. It was Peres who had proposed that Ilan Ramon become Israel’s first astronaut, and it was Peres who in 2003, took Rona Ramon and their children under his wing, when Ilan died together with the rest of the crew when their Columbia spaceship disintegrated on re-entering Earth. The Ramon family became part of the extended Peres family. When Assaf Ramon followed his father into the IAF and passed the tests, it was Peres who pinned his wings on him, not imagining that three months later he would be eulogizing him.
After Rona Ramon established the Ramon Foundation, she met frequently with Peres. Most of those meetings were recorded for posterity by Yosef Avi Yair Engel who had worked on special projects with Peres during and after his presidency. Engel, an avid photographer who never goes anywhere without his camera, snapped hundreds of photographs of Peres and Ramon at different events. This week placed a selection of them on Facebook.
Rona Ramon also established a relationship with current President Reuven Rivlin, whom she asked to give the address for the laying of the Beit Assaf cornerstone in memory of her son last September. Rivlin knew at the time that she was ill, but he could not imagine that this energetic, vibrant and impressive woman would be dead just three months later.
Symbolically when her body lay in state, it was in the same coffin that had transported her husband’s remains for burial in Israel.
Although cremation goes against the grain of Jewish law and tradition, hardly anyone spoke out against her last wish. The notable exception was Beersheba rabbi Yehudah Deri who urged her children not to abide by her wish. The letter earned him a lot of publicity, which for all anyone knows, may have been his motive.
Many religiously observant people were among those who came to pay their respects. They included Israel Prize laureate Adina Bar Shalom, the daughter of one chief rabbi and the sister of another, who recalled as she stood by the coffin that she and Rona Ramon had traveled to Odessa to meet with orphaned children, and how warmly Rona had hugged them.
Though much has been written about her exemplary courage, her dedication to academic excellence, her contribution to space science and research, and her love of humanity, it will take a few years before Israel realizes just how much it owes to Rona Ramon who showed the world how to turn tragedy into triumph.
■ LAST WEDNESDAY, it was reported in this column that antisemitic graffiti had defaced the gates of the Jewish cemetery in Czestochowa, Poland. Thankfully, it has been removed by municipal workers, but Alon Goldman, vice president of the World Society of Czestochowa Jews and their Descendants, is not entirely satisfied. He wants the municipality and police to install closed circuit cameras to protect the burial grounds.
■ MEANWHILE IN Israel, the Polish Institute with the full backing and cooperation of the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv, this week launched a media campaign whereby Ambassador Marek Magierowski and Institute director Joanna Hofman hope to give Israelis a broader image of Poland than the Holocaust. The Holocaust will always be part of the common history of Poles and Jews, they say, but there are other commonalities and differences which should be explored, they say. They would like to introduce Israelis to Polish literature, art, music, dance, fashion and cuisine. According to Hofman, Warsaw is the European capital of vegan cuisine, and Israelis will be able to sample it next year at the annual Polish culinary festival in Israel.
The Polish Institute also promotes numerous activities and projects which are of great Jewish interest as well as of Polish interest. For instance, on Thursday, December 27, in conjunction with several academic and research organizations, the Polish Institute will hold a seminar and screening of the film Who will write our history? that tells the story of the Oyneg Shabbes group of journalists and scholars led by historian and politician Emanuel Ringelblum, who recorded day to day happenings in the Warsaw Ghetto. Their’s was an act of courage fought not with guns, but with testimony. Their story is told as a feature documentary that was written, produced and directed by Roberta Grossman and executive produced by Nancy Spielberg. The seminar and screening will take place from 4 p.m. at the Buchman Law Faculty at Tel Aviv University.
Among the many anniversaries next year will be the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, and the focus of the Polish Institute will be on Janusz Korczak and his concern for and care of children.
Business relations between Israel and Poland are flourishing, said Magierowski, but the media in both countries don’t cover the story. One example of bi-lateral business relations is the code sharing agreement between El Al and Poland’s national carrier LOT Airlines that was signed on Tuesday in Warsaw by LOT CEO Rafal Milczarski and El Al president and CEO Gonen Ussishkin. The signing ceremony, on the 10th of Tevet in the Hebrew calendar, was held in the LOT offices after which two airline executives went to the Warsaw Ghetto Monument where a religious service was held, and where they placed wreaths before leading tour through Polin – The Museum of Jewish History in Poland.
■ PRIOR TO hosting the Israel, Greece and Cyprus summit conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara hosted an intimate, dinner late on Wednesday night at the Prime Minister’s Residence for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his partner Peristera “Betty” Baziana, and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and his wife Andri Moustakoudi.
■ JEWS WERE not particularly known for being great wine drinkers or wine connoisseurs until the advent of the French branch of the Rothschild family, but in the book of Genesis, Jacob’s blessing on Judah includes the vine and wine. King David was born into the tribe of Judah, and his capital was Jerusalem, so it stands to reason that the city should have many wineries. There are several boutique wineries in areas surrounding Jerusalem, but according to Jaimie Sellouk, who is believed to be the only International certified sommelier in Israel, there is only one winery in Jerusalem itself –  the Jerusalem Vineyard Winery which was established in Atarot in 1976 and was purchased 30 years later by businessman Ofer Guetta. The wines, some of which are produced under the Windmill label, are crafted by Montreal-born Sam Soroka, who Sellouk says is the most experienced winemaker in Israel. The wine can be tasted in The Windmill Tasting Room located at Montefiore’s Windmill in Yemin Moshe, where there is also a coffee shop run in conjunction with The Jerusalem Foundation. On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Press Club hosted the Jerusalem Vineyard Winery at a civil New Year toast and tasting at which the knowledgeable, eloquent and engaging Sallouk gave a lecture on the history of wine and the difference between Mediterranean and other wines.