It was with mixed feelings that I read this morning of the return of the space shuttle Atlantis and the end of the shuttle program. There are moments that stand out in my mind and my memory, especially those moments of loss and tragedy. That Shabbat morning in 2003 when we heard of the space shuttle Columbia and its loss upon reentry – Ilan Ramon was among the astronauts that day. We had a hurried conversation on the bimah as to how we might respond. Those of you who were present know that we thought that many in the congregation had already heard the news or would hear soon and therefore decided to address it.
Before the final mourners’ kaddish Rabbi Zaiman shared with us the sad news and taught some of the laws of aninut how we were to behave in the days following a death but before burial. As our tradition teaches, we did not say kaddish but instead did what we could as a community and as individuals to prepare for what came later.
One of the things that bind us together as a community is sharing sadness. In the second chapter of Pirkei Avot Hillel says, Al tifrosh min ha tzibbur, do not separate yourself from the community. The Talmud later comes to explain that this means we must mourn together for communal sadness if we wish to merit rejoicing together as a community.
I think that we do both today as we look back on the space shuttle program and all that it accomplished and all that was lost in the past 30 years.