MIA IDF Soldier Zechariah Baumel’s Remains Return to Israel (and elections reflections)

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When planning this week’s newsletter, we were sure our focus would be exclusively on the election, and then something remarkable happened – Zechariah Baumel’s body was found and returned to Israel. Baumel was an American-born Israeli soldier who had been MIA (missing in action) for 37 years, since the First Lebanon War in 1982.

Growing up, for years, every single shabbat, we would recite the prayer for the missing Zechariah Ben Miriam Baumel. And every single shabbat, I admit I would think to myself, “Really, come on, he’s gone. We’ll never find him.” Nevertheless, there was something that connected me to him.

And, for years, I remember wearing a dog tag with a list of other MIAs, like Zvi FeldmanYehuda Katz, and Ron Arad. I took this dog tag with me everywhere. Swimming, running, in class, I would wear this dog tag everywhere. When walking and feeling the dog tag hit my chest, I remember feeling connected to these Jewish men I never met.

So, when Baumel’s body was returned to Israel and his remaining family had a chance to eulogize him properly, I felt that we, the Jewish people, should take the same opportunity and responsibility to teach our young people about Baumel as well.

Emotions are running high in Israel this week for other reasons as well. With election day tomorrow, the last-minute campaign efforts are in full swing. In the past weeks, we’ve prepped you and your students for the big day with our guides to the elections (part 1and part 2) and model for mock elections.

Our focus this week is what happens the day after elections. As a former high school principal, I believe how educators teach the response to the election is more important than teaching in advance of the election. Why? See below.


What Happened?

On Wednesday, April 3, Israel brought back the remains of Zechariah Baumel, an American-born Israeli soldier who’s been MIA for 37 years since the First Lebanon War in 1982. The details of the operation aren’t fully available, but his family has breathed a sigh of relief. Baumel’s father, Yona, dedicated his life to finding his son, but passed away in 2009 without learning his fate.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called this one of his “most exciting moments as prime minister.” He vowed to “continue to invest every effort“ in the other MIAs and KIAs (killed in action), saying, “We will not cease this holy mission.” (Watch his Hebrew address here.)

In her moving eulogy for her brother, Baumel’s sister, Osnah, said: “Thank you to the Jewish People who gave us strength; To everyone who prayed for him, who wrote, who thought, who had hope in your heart, in your merit, we’re here. Thank you to the Jewish people for this day.”

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you imagine Zechariah’s family is experiencing right now? On the one hand, there is the relief that he was found and returned to Israel, and on the other hand there is now a formal shiva, mourning period. What emotions might this evoke?
  2. Why do you think Israel devotes so much time, money and human resources to locating its missing and fallen soldiers?

Practical Classroom Tips

  1. Together with your students, listen to this 15-minute English-language talk given by R. Eli Weber at Yeshivat Har Etzion, where he was a friend of Baumel’s. Get to know who he was as a person.
  2. Unfortunately, there are several Israeli soldiers who are considered MIA or KIA and still behind enemy lines. Most recently, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were killed in Gaza in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge. Their bodies are being held by Hamas, and their families are doing everything in their power to bring them back to Israel. Learn about their efforts here, and, together with your class, brainstorm how you can help.


As important as it is to teach the ins and outs of Israeli politics, from an educational standpoint, it is more important to teach how to reflect on them. We suggest taking the following points into consideration when discussing the election results with your students:

  1. Teach politics without being political – If we can create an environment in which students feel safe and comfortable voicing their opinions, we are doing something right. Be very careful about showing too much pride or shame in the results as your students will take their cues from you and want to feel comfortable with you. This does not mean we should be automatons, but it means we should not impose our political perspectives on our students; we could focus more more on the implications of the results than on how you are personally feeling about the results. As educators, the more we serve as facilitators of thought and discussion, and the less we serve as sages on the stage, we will put the students in more of a position to construct their own perspectives, as opposed to pantomiming our views.
  2. The power of reflection – “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” John Dewey, the famous educational theorist, made this idea popular, and we know how vital reflection is to any process of learning. Make sure your students have time to ask questions, think about the results, and process what the results of this election means for Israel and the Jewish people.
  3. Widen the tent of Zionism and attachment to Israel – An opinion and a vote still matters even if yours didn’t “win.” Students may have “voted” for a party whose leader did not become prime minister, or did not even make the coalition. This is not cause for disengagement or apathy.

    Remind students that:

    a. There is great value in multiple voices. The Knesset has a relatively low threshold for parties to enter (3.25% of the vote), which means that many voices are represented. Just because one’s favorite party didn’t “win,” that doesn’t mean that it won’t make a significant impact in government. It’s also critical because we want to encourage students to engage with the various perspectives and broaden the contours of dispute. Sivan Zakai, Professor of Jewish Education at Hebrew Union College, has written that:

    Learning multiple perspectives about Israel is necessary not only for understanding the varied people and communities that make up its population, but also for helping American Jews understand how their own developing beliefs and positions about Israel fit into a larger spectrum of ideas and opinions.

    b. There’s no need to be a sore loser or sore winner. There is dignity in respecting and valuing others, regardless of a particular outcome. This is true in politics, sports, business and many other areas. One can learn a lot about a community going into an election, but one learns much more about a community in how it responds to an election.

Two more things before you go

  1. Check out this livestream of Israeli election day, taking place tomorrow, 1-4PM EDT. It will be hosted by JNS Jerusalem Bureau Chief Alex Traiman and will feature news, analysis and moderated panels with Jerusalem’s leading experts on Israeli politics, US-Israel relations, security, BDS and more. Put it in your calendars for tomorrow! And here you can find one more last-minute resource for learning more about the elections.
  2. Did you run mock elections with your students? If so, send us the results. We’ll compile and share them if we have enough responses. It would be very interesting for us all to see what young Diaspora Jews think of Israeli politics!

Noam Weissman

Dr. Noam Weissman is Senior Vice President at OpenDor Media. He leads the education vision and implementation at OpenDor Media with a special focus on the development of meaningful content and resources for students and educators. He holds a doctorate in educational psychology from USC with a focus on curriculum design.

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