Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel (1849-1927), better known as the Alter of Slobodka (a town in Lithuania). He was a master at bringing out the potential of every individual, encouraging students to refine their character and become great in both scholarship and ethics. Many of his disciples, who studied at his famed Slobodka Yeshiva, became major leaders of 20th century Judaism -- Rabbis Yitzhak Hutner, Yaakov Kamenetzky, Aaron Kotler, Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, Yechezkel Sarna, and Elazar M. Shach. His own son, Eliezer Yehudah Finkel eventually became dean of the famed Mir Yeshiva, today located in Jerusalem and the largest yeshiva in the world with 5,000 students.
On this date in 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up during re-entry, killing all seven crew members aboard, including Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon. During his 16 days in space, Ramon defied gravity by lifting his country from the morass of terror, by making Jews feel connected and proud. Ramon's space luggage included a small Torah scroll that had survived Bergen-Belsen. He also brought along a mezuzah adorned with barbed wire -- symbolizing the Nazi concentration camps -- in tribute to his mother who survived Auschwitz and his grandfather who was murdered there. On board the Shuttle, Ramon ate kosher food and welcomed Shabbat with the first intergalactic Kiddush. And as he passed over Jerusalem, he recited "Shema Yisrael," the age-old declaration of Jewish faith.