Thousands of people attended the funeral of Sergeant Zachary Baumel, whose remains were brought to Israel yesterday 37 years after he was killed during the First Lebanon War. The funeral began at 7 PM Thursday evening at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Yaakov Medan, head of Yeshivat Har Etzion where Baumel studied, eulogized his former student.
"When my dear wife called me in the middle of afternoon classes yesterday I knew that it was something important, because she would not disturb my classes except in exceptional circumstances. She told me that the body of Zachary Baumel was found and that it was on the way to burial in Israel." Rabbi Medan said.
"I knew the late Yonah, Zachary's father, and his mother Miriam very well. I am familiar with their home on Abba Halkia Street in Jerusalem and for years we maintained ties with the family. It is a very special thing that Zachary has been returned to us.
"I remember Zachary as everyone who knew him remembers him - with his constant and warm smile. He was friendly person and a true friend who always helped anyone who had difficulty in class, especially the American boys.
"He was a diligent student. I remember him sitting in the first row in front of the Holy Ark, and one of the things he loved most about learning was Maimonides - the Guide for the Perplexed. For 37 years his smile has not left my mind. He had a great level of humility, a great degree of contentment and patience for people. Together with him we found brotherhood in the beit midrash.
"The atmosphere during Operation Peace for Galilee at the yeshiva was an atmosphere reminiscent of Trumpeldor's actions. We all felt the need to come to the aid of the Galilee residents burning in us, and the desire to restore peace and security to the residents were strong within us. After all, Trumpeldor also came to the aid of the four settlements in the north, and after that the area was called Kiryat Shmona, which in those days prior to Peace for Galilee war simply emptied of residents. Everyone had abandoned it [due to constant shelling from Lebanon]..
"The need to risk their lives for our brothers in the north gave us all the feeling that we were one. Zachary, together with all the young men, left the Beit Midrash. I remember the bus ride that Sunday morning, and now after 37 years, my heart is just overflowing. Now, 37 years have passed and we have still not given up. Zachary came back to us. 'And the sons return to their borders!'" Rabbi Medan said, quoting Jeremiah's prophecy while wiping a tear.
"I would like to thank the security forces. As a person who lives in Gush Etzion and experienced great difficulty in locating the bodies of 36 of the fighters [massacred on their way to try to save Gush Etzion in 1948] known as The Lamed Heh, we know what it means for corpses to be brought to their final resting place. 'Give thanks to G-d for he is good!' Again and again and again," he concluded.
President Reuven Rivlin also eulogized Baumel.
“Miriam, Shimon, Osna – dear Baumel family. Veterans of the battle of Sultan Yakoub, commanders and solders from Battalion 399 and Battalion 362, those who were injured and those who were captured, comrades. Zachary. 37 years ago, a few days before the battle in which you were captured, you wrote to your parents, Yona of blessed memory and Miriam, long may she live. You wrote: ‘Don’t worry, everything is fine, but it doesn’t look like I’ll be home soon.’ 37 years have passed since then. 37 years, but today you came home. You came back to our land, our country, to Jerusalem," the president said.
"Last year, Osna your sister and I walked together in the March of the Living. There, on Polish soil, as we marched from Holocaust to redemption, from Auschwits to Jerusalem, Osna told me about you. A good boy, good student, a basketball fan and a sensitive soul. You dreamed of becoming a psychologist, she said. You even applied and were accepted for studies at the Hebrew University. But then the war broke out. Look around you, Zachary. If you could see your commanders, your comrades, close to 60 years old. Some of them already have grandchildren. But we are burying you today. A young soldier, just 22 years old. The battle of Sultan Yakoub in the first Lebanon War was one of the toughest the IDF has fought. A battle that left us with an open wound in our hearts. The IDF suffered many losses in the battle. And more than anything, the pain of the three soldiers missing in action: Zachary, Zvika and Yehuda. And today, when we bring you, Sergeant First Class Zachary Baumel, to eternal rest, nearly four decades after you fell, is the day that the State of Israel fulfils the oath it makes with its soldiers, men and women. Today, we can say with full faith, that we do everything – even the inconceivable and the unbelievable – to fulfill our oath: to bring home our soldiers who did not return from battle. Today, we can say honestly and humbly to our soldiers past, present and future: we did not give up and we will not give up on this sacred task until all those who fell defending our people and country are brought home. We will not cease until all our boys are back home, including your comrades in arms Sergeant First Class Yehuda Katz and Sergeant First Class Zvi Feldman, and all those who fell in battle and whose resting place is unknown.
"Zachary, family, ten years ago exactly Yona Baumel passed away. Yona was a dear man, a symbol of courage and determination. I knew Yona well. We all knew Yona. Since that awful day, the battle of Sultan Yakoub, Yona did not rest for a single day. He dedicated his life to the constant and obstinate search. He left no stone unturned in collecting every fragment of information that could lead to finding the boys. Yona traipsed between leaders and officials in Israel and around the world, doing all he could for Zachary, his and Miriam’s youngest child. He taught us a lesson in dedication, determination and a father’s love for his son. Yona had a whole intelligence network. He built a huge archive. I know that before he died, when he was at death’s door, he said that he had failed. He was disappointed. ‘I did not complete the mission,’ he said. ‘Zack didn’t come home.’ Yona, today we can finally tell you – you did not see the day, but the mission to bring Zachary home to be buried in Israel has been completed. I would like to thank the IDF and the whole Israeli intelligence community, who have worked on this sacred mission. Special thanks to Russian president Vladimir Putin for his commitment to this humanitarian mission, and for his warm friendship for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Over the fresh grave of Sergeant First Class Zachary Baumel, let me say a prayer and make a promise for all those still missing and those whose place of burial is not known: ‘they shall come back from the land of the enemy, your children shall come back home’. May his memory be a blessing.”