The news that Jews around the world had been hoping for yet dreading arrived Sunday afternoon, as the body of Rabbi Reuven Bauman, z”l, was located around 1:30 p.m., 300 feet offshore, a mile from the North Carolina border, by a boat of volunteers from Misaskim of Maryland.
Rabbi Bauman, a rebbi in a day school and camp in Norfolk, Virginia, had drowned last Tuesday off the coast of nearby Sandbridge Beach, Virginia, (just south of Virginia Beach) while rescuing a camper who had been pulled into the surf by a massive current.
A massive search effort was undertaken by the Coast Guard, local police and other authorities, and many volunteers and organizations from Jewish communities across the Northeast. Misaskim of Maryland, Baltimore Shomrim, Achiezer, COMMSAR, Misaskim of Greater Washington, Chaveirim of Lakewood and many individuals from the Norfolk Jewish community and beyond participated in the operation, coordinated by Chaveirim of Rockland County.
The effort included boats, jet skiers, an airplane, a helicopter and drones, as well bicyclists and people walking up and down the beach.
In the five days since he was swept out to sea, fervent prayers were recited by Jews across the country and around the world for Reuven Tzvi ben Esther Baila – first in hopes of his being found alive, and later, as it became apparent that the search had moved into recovery mode, for the body to be found quickly and bring a measure of closure to a widow and orphans.
Finally, on Sunday afternoon, Rabbi Bauman’s body was found at sea eight miles from where he had been swept under by a riptide, enabling him to be brought to kevuras Yisrael, and his family to mourn him by sitting shivah.
Rabbi Bauman, 35, who had dedicated his life to teaching Torah, was a source of monumental Kiddush Hashem in death, as locals marveled at how the Jewish community mobilized in the aftermath of the tragedy.
One woman, watching the volunteers on the beach, remarked, “I see you have a really strong community.”
When several volunteers entered a Virginia Beach gas station’s grocery store to purchase ice, the clerk refused to accept payment.
“This store is donating a bag of ice to you guys, out of respect for what you do,” she said.
The clerk told the group that upon hearing the previous day that the Coast Guard was giving up the search, her reaction had been, “I don’t understand how you can give up a search.” (The Coast Guard, at the request of community activists, later renewed its search.)
When the clerk told her colleague why this group of customers were in town, the colleague said, “That’s nice; at least somebody will give the family closure.”
The unity displayed by the Jewish community has been a great source of comfort to those in Norfolk.
“The entire community is sad,” Amy Levy, president of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, Virginia, told Hamodia during the search. “We are a small, close-knit community. In addition to the efforts being made by those in our community, I am especially touched to see the outpouring of support from organizations from New Jersey, New York and Baltimore. When Jews anywhere are in trouble, Jews everywhere feel the pain and run to assist, and that is heartwarming.”
“The community really appreciates the efforts of volunteers who came from near and far,” Rabbi Gavriel Rudin, Director of Community Development and Programming at B’nai Israel Congregation of Norfolk, told Hamodia during the search. “And we are very inspired by the way Jews all over the world responded with davening. We really feel like we’re part of a larger Jewish family.”
Aryeh Leib Freedman, president of Misaskim of Maryland, says that the Misaskim members on the boat that found the body had been on the search Wednesday and Thursday, arrived back in Baltimore Thursday night, then left immediately Motzoei Shabbos back for Virginia.
“It was a grueling search for them,” Freedman told Hamodia on Sunday. “At times they felt like giving up – yet there was no way they would actually give up. That’s what being brothers is about.”
Agudah of Maryland/Mid-Atlantic quickly intervened with the medical examiner to ensure prompt kavod hameis.
The feeling among the volunteers was one of both profound sadness yet relief for the family.
“This is a terrible tragedy, but even in the midst of something so awful, we saw chassadim from Hashem,” says Freedman. “And we saw how, even in its most heartbreaking moments, Klal Yisrael is mekaadesh shem Shamayim.”
The funeral was held Monday morning at B’nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, Virginia. Burial was held that afternoon at the K’hal Adath Jeshurun section of the King Solomon Cemetery in Clifton, New Jersey.
As the kehillah follows minhag Ashkenaz, it has requested that only men attend the funeral.
Some family members will sit shivah in Norfolk, and others in Spring Valley, New York.
A Charidy campaign has been set up for the family at https://www.charidy.com/baumanfamily
Updated Monday, July 15, 2019 at 9:30 pm .