Jewish Astronuat Takes Mitzvah Into Space

by Baila Olidort - SPACE COAST, FL

January 15, 2003

The Shuttle Columbia launched successfully this morning January 16, to the lively singing, of "Oseh Shalom." Hundreds of proud Israelis swelled with joy, having arrived from Israel to witness firsthand the launch of the Shuttle, which carries the first Israeli Astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon.

On hand to serve the Israeli guests is Rabbi Tzvi Konikov, Chabad-Lubavitch representative to the Space Coast, who has arranged for the only simultaneous translation in Hebrew of the live countdown coverage of the Shuttle Columbia launch. Radio stations WMIE 91.5 FM and WFJP AM 1510 broadcast the direct feed from Mission Control, Johnson Space Center and was also made available to radio stations

throughout Israel. Coverage began 9 a.m. Thursday and lasted 45 minutes after the launch.

Col. Ramon, who consulted with Rabbi Konikov months ago (see archives how to mark Shabbat in space, had asked Rabbi Konikov for a dollar bill from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, which he carried with him on his mission. The dollar bill represents the mitzvah of tzedaka, charity-giving, which the Rebbe promoted by distributing dollars to all those who came to seek his blessing.

The dollar bill was meant to be given to charity, but most people cherish the particular bill that was held by the Rebbe, preferring to give another one or more, in its place to charity. The Rebbe campaigned fervently to promote the habit of daily charity giving. During his lifetime, the Rebbe stood for hours every Sunday, receiving people who came to seek his blessing and his counsel. His blessing always came with a dollar bill that be given to charity.

"Whenever someone told the Rebbe that they were traveling, the Rebbe blessed them with a safe, successful trip, and gave them a dollar to give to charity when they arrive at their destination," observed Rabbi Konikov.

A mission to space fits the bill, and Rabbi Konikov is delighted that Col. Ramon, who appreciates his unique responsibility as a Jewish astronaut and the role model he serves for Jewish people, will be taking this mitzvah into space. “His mission is an inspiration,” he says. "He is in our hearts, and we pray for a smooth launch and successful mission."

Back in the geosphere, Chabad has been arranging for kosher lunches for many of the Israeli guests, and will be hosting all those who want to celebrate Shabbat, at the Chabad Jewish Community Center in Satellite Beach.

"That's what we are here for, " said Rabbi Zvi Konikov. "Chabad has 3,000 centers worldwide. It's like a home away from home for those traveling."

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