There was a flood on Thursday in Jerusalem. It was not a flood from rain nor rivers Rather, it was the flood of thousands of tears shed by thousands of mourners who accompanied the remains of Staff Seargeant Zachary Baumel z”l to his final resting place in the soil of his beloved Israel in a newly opened grave on Mount Herzl Military Cemetery, a sacred burial place for Israel’s heroes in Jerusalem.
Like millions of Israelis who watched the burial from a distance, my eyes also shed tears of grief but my tears were only sufficient to water a small area of his burial plot.
The flood poured down from the mountain. Mount Herzl was weeping for her beloved hero.
My heart ached for Zachary’s 90 year old mother and for his siblings. For 37 years they prayed, dreamed, hoped to learn word of Zachary. Was he alive? Was he injured? Was he tortured?
And for 37 years all they got was silence. A deafening silence which did not respond to their screams and pleas for help. For 37 years they suffered a death-defying torture. And while Zachary Baumel no longer feels pain, their pain will never, never end.
In 1982, Zachary was taken prisoner by the Syrians together with two other Israeli soldiers in the Lebanese war whose bodies still remain buried in Damascus.
The Israeli government for three and one-half decades had never given up hope of finding him alive. Calls to international governments to intercede with Syrian authorities were in vain. They fell upon Syrian deaf ears.
What happened to Zachary after he was captured and held as a prisoner of war we do not know. We cannot know. We never shall really know. We do not know the date of his death. His surviving family cannot know when to light the annual memorial candle.
Only today, 37 years too late, are they able to mourn officially and to observe the period of shiva.
Zachary’s beloved father Yona never lost hope of finding his son. As he grew older, Yona’s one great prayer was to God. “Let me live to see my son again”. His prayer was not answered. Yona died ten years ago without seeing his beloved son Zachary.
The nation of Israel mourns. Strangers who never knew Zachary or his family weep bitter tears for a fallen hero.
We have not been officially informed of the details which led to the discovery of Zachary’s body. Some say that it was Putin’s Russia, a friend to both Syria and Iran, who intervened with the Syrian military.
At the Jewish cemetery in Damascus, Syria, they dug up the grave where his body had been interred and together with his jacket and ritual prayer tzitzit, his remains were transferred to the not-yet-known source who aided in the discovery and were flown to Israel for his final burial.
A mountain in Jerusalem is weeping. Its tears are flooding the streets and valleys of our country.
In addition to Zachary Baumel’s body, ten other bodies were recovered from the Damascus cemetery and returned to Israel for Jewish burial. Unfortunately, the names of the two other soldiers captured in 1982 did not appear by DNA testing.
I watched the autopsy procedure on television as the doctor was explaining the problem in identifying the ten bodies and is waiting for DNA to provide more information.
It was heartbreaking to listen to him and I can only imagine how parents of missing or dead soldiers are reacting . “Could it be my son?”
As I conclude my writing and am ready to send it off to my editor, it has now been announced and acknowledged that the secret operation was successful due to Russia’s involvement with the Syrians. It was activated by Netanyahu’s personal request to Putin to whom we are very grateful.
A mitzvah has been done after 37 years of suffering, wondering, praying and crying.
At the grave site, eulogies were delivered by Zachary’s sister Osna, by the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, and by the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, all who praised Zachary Baumel as a national hero.
It is now time to dry our eyes. I am imploring the heights of Mount Herzl to stop their weeping, the cause of the great flood..
God promised us that Noah’s flood would be the last flood. We can grieve and we can mourn the loss of one of our bravest.
But we can also rejoice that Zachary Baumel has come home at last. May his memory be for a blessing among us forever..