The solemn notes of Ke’l Maleh Rahamim – the song of praise for God sung during Jewish funerals – seemed to bring with it a feeling of bittersweet relief for those who were gathered later Thursday afternoon to say farewell to IDF Staff Sergeant Zachary Baumel as he was laid to rest, at last, in the welcoming earth of Jerusalem on Mount Herzl.
Silently, each military official gathered around the grave together with the nation’s leadership, emptying bags of earth over the simple pine box in which Baumel’s remains were at rest. In the Jewish faith, it is considered an honor to help cover the naked grave with earth, facilitating the process in which the physical part of a Jew integrates with the Land given to the Jewish People by God.
The flag that was draped over the coffin was given to Baumel’s family.
The remains of some 19 other Israelis were also returned on Wednesday together with the body of Baumel; they are currently in the process of being identified by the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute.
Sadly, Baumel’s fellow soldiers who fell together with him at the fierce Battle of Sultan Yacoub during the 1982 First Lebanon War – Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman – were not among those who returned on Wednesday, according to Israeli officials.
For their families, closure has not yet come.
But for Zachary Baumel’s sister, and for his mother, however, the long journey came to an end at sunset in the heart of Israel’s eternal capital, when their soldier finally was laid to rest in the IDF’s national military cemetery in Jerusalem.
The state’s top national leaders and military brass were there.
“After 37 years you have come home to our Land, to Jerusalem,” said President Reuven Rivlin.
“To our soldiers in the past, present and future – you must know that we will not rest until everyone has been returned home. Today we can finally tell [Zachary’s father] that even though you didn’t live to see this day, the mission to bring Zachary has been completed.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came directly to the cemetery from the airport, having just arrived from Moscow, where he had met with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, thanking him personally for helping to locate and return Baumel’s body from Syria.
Putin was personally involved in arranging the return of Baumel’s body, along with those of the other soldiers.
While he was in Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry held an official ceremony during which he received the remains of Zachary Baumel’s personal effects. Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov also attended the ceremony.
Netanyahu thanked President Putin and the Defense Ministry for the effort to bring Zachary Baumel for Jewish burial after 37 years. The Russian Defense Ministry orchestra played a requiem. After the ceremony, the Israeli flag that was placed on the casket containing the effects was folded by the honor guard and given to the Prime Minister.