Babylon & Beyond

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ISRAEL: Pilot and astronaut father share final resting place

September 15, 2009 |  5:10 pm

Capt. Assaf Ramon was buried beside his father, Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut killed with six others in the Columbia space shuttle disaster. The bittersweet success story of a boy following his father's path, graduating flight school with honors only three months ago, was embraced by the Israeli public, as was the news that his F-16 crashed Sunday in a training accident; the nation adopted the family's second tragedy as its own.

Private and public mix in a small country where the draft is mandatory for most; a national or greater cause helps make sense of tragedy. Eulogized by many as the finest of modern-day Zionists, exemplary Israelis and pioneers, the father and son share their final resting place with other individuals who are part of the national narrative.

They are buried in Nahalal. The first workers' farm, founded in 1921, is famous for its unique circular design, a  spectacular site that was also home to the Jezreel Valley's early Zionist settlers. Nahalal was the home of the Dayans; the dynasty that gave Israel one of its great military heroes, Moshe Dayan, also produced some of the country's best known public figures in culture, politics and army.

Nahalal was home to idealists, dreamers, generals and secret agents. In the 1930s, two of the community's members were killed by gangs led by Izzidin al-Qassam, a Muslim cleric who inspired attacks on the Zionist settlers. Decades later, he inspired the Islamic militant group Hamas to name its military wing after him.

A few months before he died in 1981, Dayan took a film crew to the Nahalal cemetery on Shimron Hill adjacent to the farming community. He told them he didn't want any speeches or decorations at his funeral:   "To be buried here, with these people, is the highest decoration."

Ariel Sharon, another prominent son of tough-as-nails early settlers, is said to have remarked of Dayan: "He would wake up with 100 ideas. Of these, 95 were dangerous, three more were bad. The remaining two, however, were brilliant."

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem