The cantor somberly chanted the Hebrew prayers for the dead, and rabbis and statesmen marveled at the dedication and sacrifice of the space shuttle Columbia's seven lost astronauts. But mostly, they spoke of the explorers' diversity, and how they bound together peoples and countries.
"Today our heroes are no longer with us, and our nations are joined in grief," Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said last night at a memorial service for the shuttle crew at Adas Israel Congregation in Northwest Washington.
Many of the 350 or so mourners appeared to be looking for an outlet to share their grief. In lines both sacred and secular, verses of comfort were offered in sermons and psalms.
Switching between Hebrew and English, Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg quoted Scripture from King David, saying, "In their deaths they were not divided."
The words sung by the cantor during the mourners' kaddish spoke not of death but of the celebration of life. During the prayer, many closed their eyes or held their children tight.
"I think, like everyone, I was looking for someplace to be, to mourn with a community," said Ed Rehfeld, 39, a Northwest Washington speechwriter. "It just felt like the right place."
Addressing the crowd, Ayalon described crew member Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli to launch into space, as a symbol of the Hebrew people's rise in two generations "from the ashes of the Nazi crematoriums to frontiers of excellence."
Ramon's remains were recovered yesterday and will be returned to Israel for burial Tuesday, Ayalon said.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), chairman of the science and technology subcommittee, said Congress would give NASA the support it needs while the agency tries to determine what went so wrong to cause the shuttle to break apart minutes before it was to land Saturday morning after a 16-day mission. Manned space flight must continue to ensure that the dreams of the fallen astronauts will not be forgotten, Brownback added.
"We need to sow that vision for our people and for the people around the world, so these lives will not be lost in vain," Brownback said.
Members of the shuttle crew spent time at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, setting up experiments for the flight, Goddard Director A.V. Diaz told the mourners.
He said NASA workers will miss the "brave crew" members because "they shared a passion for exploration."
The memorial service was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, along with the Jewish Community Council and the Israeli Embassy.
"I think the Jewish community needed a forum for healing," said Ronald Halber, the council's executive director.