KIRYAT MOTZKIN, Israel, Feb. 2 (UPI) — A Hebrew love song chosen by Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon’s wife for NASA to broadcast as a wake-up call to him in space was repeatedly played on Israel radio and TV stations on Sunday.

The song Rona Ramon had picked — sung in Hebrew — goes:

“Will you hear my voice, my distant one? Will you hear my voice, wherever you are? My last day is perhaps here, The day of parting-tears is near.”

Ramon’s wife hasn’t explained why she chose what turned out to be such a tragically prophetic tune. But Sunday the entire country, it seemed, wept at the sound of its sad melody.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had U.S. Ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer sitting beside him at the cabinet table as he told his ministers: “It is at times like these that we feel our common fate, identity and values, and shared vision.”

“As we share triumphs, we also share misfortune,” Kurtzer replied.

Ramon, serious and unassuming, had captured the hearts of his countrymen.

He had became a representative of Jewish people having taken with him a miniature Torah scroll and a wine cup for Sabbath blessing. As he flew over Jerusalem he recited the main Jewish prayer.

From space he told his people how beautiful and small their country is. “This country, so used to looking down on itself, raised its eyes towards the surprising possibility that after all there is a different Israel, a country that can defy the gravity of its fate,” wrote one commentator in the newspaper Ha’aretz.

Yediot Aharonot columnist Eitan Haber lamented: “In recent years, we have had few moments of happiness and pride — and we so wanted to be so — happy and proud.

“We sat down to see the routine landing and even this unique moment was robbed from us; instead of a smile, and an Israeli flag, and the first homemade astronaut, we saw trails of white vapor in the sky and it seems an entire state lost a family member.”

At the entrance to the Ort Motzkin high school, north of Haifa, students put up black memorial boards and covered them with pictures and newspaper cuttings of the Columbia and its crew, and several smaller pictures of Ramon and the test he had performed for them in space.

Several pupils brought candles that they lit for each of the seven astronauts.

“It was very spontaneous,” headmaster Marga Segal said.

The school had won a contest and became one of six around the world to have its proposed experiment carried out on the latest mission.

Several pupils had gone to the University of Colorado, which works with NASA, and prepared two different colored crystals to see how they grow in weightlessness.

On Earth those crystals grow upwards, against gravity, Ilana Zibenberg, 16, said. The pupils chose one blue crystal and one white crystal — the colors of the Israeli flag.

Dor Zafrir, 16, said that he and four friends were told to wait for a call from mission control in Houston one night at 2 a.m.

When they picked up the receiver, Mission Control reported that visual and audio connection with the Columbia were good, and Roman was going to report on the crystal experiment.

The pictures and data sent back showed one crystal grew like a ball and the other grew in all directions “like spaghetti,” Zibenberg said.

However, a process that takes a few minutes on Earth took a few days in space, she noted.

There is no practical application of this test but it gives a flavor to scientific research, “a feeling that you had experimented with something and you were right,” science teacher Amira Birenbaum said.

They saw the Columbia go down but refused to believe it. “I thought it was someone’s joke,” Adar Moritz, 17, said. Only on Sunday morning did he realize the astronauts were dead.

“I see him (Ramon) on TV and think he is with us,” Zibenberg added.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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