The closer they intertwine, the more salient heroism and tragedy become. Rabbi Reuven Bauman lost his life as he saved another. Rabbi Bauman was 35 and leaves behind five children, his wife and family. He also leaves behind a 13-year-old who will forever live with the unimaginable burden of knowing that he is alive because Rabbi Bauman is not.
It was the picture of innocence: an excursion of summer campers from Norfolk, Virginia to the Atlantic Ocean at False Cape State Park. It was a delightful day with the waves and the scent of the sea. Suddenly, without warning, out of nowhere so to speak, came a riptide. A 13-year-old went overboard. Rabbi Bauman jumped in and managed to get him close enough to shore for someone else to pull him to safety. But then the rabbi himself struggled and soon went under. He simply vanished.
The Coast Guard was immediately notified and swung into action — for three hours. That is the outside maximum that a person lost to the sea can be expected to live, the Coast Guard said. Finding no sign of the rabbi rescuer, the Coast Guard called off the search, only to go back into action following anguished pleas, including the importance of bringing a Jewish body to burial. By nightfall, however, there was no sign of the rabbi and the Coast Guard again called off its search.
But not the rabbi’s friends and neighbors. Whoever knew there were so many voluntary Jewish search-and-rescue groups? No less than five such teams descended on Norfolk,Virginia: Achiezer, Community Search and Rescue Group, Chevra Hatzalah, Shomrim of Baltimore, Misaskim of Baltimore, and other volunteers.
Altogether, these rescue services provided a command center, search efforts, planes, a helicopter, jet skis and boats. In addition, Mishpacha reports, “the local community, both Jews and non-Jews, supplied a continuous amount of food, water, and support to the search parties.”
Day after day they continued their search, as hundreds offered their prayers and the mourning family could not sit shiva, since no body had been found and no burial could be performed. As the search mounted day after day, so did the anguish. “Closure” seemed a distant and impossible dream, if that is even the word for a burial after a tragedy.
On the fifth day of the search, a body was spotted bobbing in the water some eight miles from the site of the drowning. Now, all that is left of the rabbi’s life is beautiful memories of his dedication to his craft: pedagogy. He was a “teaching rabbi,” not a pulpit rabbi. He loved the Torah enough to put aside thoughts of a career in a more lucrative field. As is well known, one will not last long as a teacher of teenagers unless one is really good at it. Rabbi Bauman, his students now relate, dazed and devastated though they are, was really good at it. His short, productive and spiritual life shines in retrospect, forever colored by its heroic end.
Had he survived we doubt that he would have called himself a hero for jumping into the dangerous waves. He would likely have said simply that he saw his camper in danger and instinctively acted to save him. No big deal, we think he would have said.
May the dedicated soul of Rabbi Bauman rest in peace.
In what we suspect is a far harder hope, may his family, students, friends and community remember him in peace.
Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News