Illustration: Ceremony for the Fallen of the First Lebanon War by Mark Neyman (Spokesperson Unit of the President of Israel) [CC BY-SA 3.0]
The body of Zachary Baumel, an IDF tank commander born in Brooklyn who went missing in action during the 1982 First Lebanon War, was returned home last week for a long belated burial following a secret retrieval mission.
“Zachary’s bones which were brought to Israel were positively identified. With them were also found his tank jumpsuit and his tzitzit. Soon Zachary will be brought to his eternal resting place with a Jewish burial,” said Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The burial was the main headline in Israel last week, despite a very hotly contested election looming the following week.
If this had been the U.S. or any other country, would the fact that the remains of a soldier brought home after 37 years been an item that causes an entire country to drop everything and unite in an outpouring of relief and pride, along with a tear? Would it have immediately shoved all else from the front pages?
Is there any other place where a few bones can produce instant unity and emotion as it does in our little Jewish country?
Baumel's father passed away a decade ago after spending 27 years traveling the world in search of some stone that had not been turned for his son. He died tragically not knowing that there was indeed a stone out there that only the combined assets of Israel's intelligence and military finally uncovered after so long. This father’s memory is also alive in Israel.
Baumel was brought by his parents to Israel from the comfort and security of the U.S., in order to bring his life to a higher level and meaning. Baumel was happy and flourished in the Jewish homeland — and then ultimately gave his life for it.
Should his parents have not left the U.S. for embattled Israel, knowing that there was a theoretical chance that serving in the Jewish army meant being exposed to the Jews' enemies?
I too made the same choice. I too served in the IDF, and I too could have been called to my Maker in the process. I too would have been found with my tzitzit. The same is true for my sons.
Tzitit — this small item made a huge impact on me. This is the difference between just defending one's country and something higher yet. Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kochba were killed by the enemy in the land of Israel — while wearing their tzitzit. The same was true for those in the army of King David and Joshua. This is how Jews have lived and died — as Jews fighting for a Jewish land. Do we consider their sacrifice a mistake or senseless?
Tragically, in the diaspora many Jews fought and died for foreign countries, often fighting on either side of the trenches while suffering from anti-Semitism in their own trench. The rebirth of our Jewish country ended that painful anomaly.
Young soldiers tragically give their lives for their countries in many places; this is unbroken history. Our dear Baumel died in a Jewish uniform fighting for his people against the enemy of his people. In historical terms, this is a revolutionary concept. Every Jewish soul is an entire world and never just a statistic.
Israel's political and military leadership must memorize the words of U.S. General Patton to his troops: "I don't want you to die for your country, I want you to make the bastards on the other side die for theirs."
Sadly, the very un-Jewish rules of engagement that Israeli soldiers are bound to today cost precious lives. Former IDF Chief of Staff and current candidate competing for the role of Prime Minister, Benny Gantz described his decision making concerning the endangerment of IDF troops during the 2014 Gaza operation. During an attack on the Hamas headquarters which were hidden in a hospital building, which had been warned and evacuated, Gantz explained: “I was there on the ground and I said wait and we took the risk on Golani Brigade — me personally — and once again we verified there was no one there; once again we called the managers and not before we did this once again — I approved to attack the place… I took risk on Golani Brigade…”
That's no Patton or King David or Joshua, and it is not at all Jewish. But this well reflects what is so very wrong today amongst Israel’s "moral elites." As a parent, I would have to ask myself if I have the right to send my son to Gantz’s type of army — Jewish or not. What a tragic situation for a Jewish parent and the Jewish people!
This insanity must change and I believe it will. The days of the Gantzs and the very non-Jewish thinking elites are numbered. It is not just the "left" that is infected with this amoral, non-Jewish thinking. Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu freed thousands of terrorist killers. Many Jews have already been murdered by them. Netanyahu responds to Hamas rockets by striking empty structures and paying millions to them in protection money.
This is looking increasingly crazy to more and more Israelis. One can hope that this election will be part of the slow process of turning the insanity around.
Contact Shalom Pollack, veteran licensed tour guide, for upcoming tours at Shalom Pollack Tours: Personalized Tours in Israel. Click here to read more of this writer’s work in The Jerusalem Herald.