The time had come for the evening studies in the yeshiva. It was the first evening session of the week between the Torah portions of Beha’alotecha and Shelach. This week separates between the journey when G-d rises up and His enemies are dispersed from him (see Bamidbar 10:35) and the tragedy when the scouts are sent out, leading to the terrible news of the long stay in the desert.


In the middle of the study session, when the air was filled with the sounds of study, Rav Amital surprised us all by coming into the yeshiva. There was suddenly complete silence in the Beit Midrash. The Rav went to the front of the room, and in an excited voice told the boys from the fourth and fifth years to go and pack their belongings. He announced, “In another half an hour, busses will come to transport you to the north. May you go and return in peace.” This was the announcement by the Rosh Yeshiva, who nine years before had lost eight of his students in the Yom Kippur War.


The busses arrived. Some of the students left that night, others were inducted only the next day. At the end of harsh battles in Lebanon, many months later, most of the group returned to the yeshiva. Most of the boys. Four of them returned home in caskets. One of those who left that night on a bus has not yet returned. Zecharia.


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A few days before his last battle, Zecharia Baumel sat in a tank parking area near Kibbutz Dafne and wrote a postcard to his family. “Don’t worry, everything is fine. But it seems that I will not get home for a while.” A prophecy, which he did not recognize when he wrote it.


* * * * * *


One week later, three men knocked on the door of the Baumel home. Two of them wore IDF uniforms and one was dressed as a civilian. They told Miriam and Yonah Baumel, “Your son is missing.” They asked, “What happened? Where? When? What happened to him?” And the soldiers replied, “We don’t know, soon people who know the details will come here and tell you.”


“But they never came,” Miriam Baumel says, in deep sorrow. “From that day on, nobody told us what happened to our son.”


* * * * * *


Tzvi Feldman was the son of Avraham Feldman, who lost all of his family in the Holocaust, and of Penina Feldman, who made aliyah from Morocco. Avraham Feldman, who together with Penina established a new family based on the ingathering of the exiles, called his son Tzvi after his father, who was murdered by the Nazis on European soil.


Yehuda Katz was the son of Yosef and Sarah Katz, two Holocaust survivors who came to Israel to help rebuild the land, to replace the smoking lands which they left behind them in Europe.


Zecharia Baumel moved to Israel from the United States when he was ten years old. He integrated fully into the country but he always continued to feel a close bond to our brethren from the United States. In Yeshivat Har Etzion, where he studied, he had many friends who came from the United States, and he made it his business to stick with them and give them any help they needed.


* * * * * *


On the morning of the nineteenth of Sivan, after a horrible battle – one of the toughest battles of the war – the commander of Battalion 262 realized that he was surrounded by Syrian forces, and that he had only three choices: To fight until the last bullet; To surrender; or to try a quick retreat. Colonel Iera Alphon saw that the command above him had no clear plan to rescue him, and that he would have to take responsibility for his battalion.


At a quarter to nine in the morning, an artillery barrage of outstanding force began. People who were there at the time say that it felt like an earthquake. Colonel Alphon quickly moved his forces away from the area. However, not everybody managed to escape – five soldiers were left behind. Three of them were later returned to Israel in a prisoner exchange. Three others – Zecharia Baumel, Tzvi Feldman, and Yehuda Katz – have still not returned. These are the MIA’s from the battle of Sultan Yacoub.


* * * * * *


In his book “White Nights,” Menachem Began tells of his experiences in the dungeons while being questioned by the Soviet secret police and in the horrible work camps in the Soviet Union. He claims that there was only one method that the prisoners could use to cope with the Soviet monster. This was to keep in mind that their suffering was significant, and that on the outside people were thinking about them and working for their release.


What kept me going, Begin says, was the thought that on the outside there were some people who supported me and thought about me…


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Zecharia, Yehuda, and Tzvi disappeared exactly 35 years ago. It is odd to think of it in this way, but half of the current population of Israel was not yet alive when this happened. However, we can never falter in our obligation to remember these men and to do everything we can to get them back. Let every soldier who was sent to battle know that the nation of Yisrael stands behind him for all eternity, and that his memory will never cease from our minds.