Baumel's sister, Osna: “I knew the chances he was alive were quite slim”

The news the soldiers brought her Wednesday, she said, “was unreal.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Osna Baumel, sister of Zachary Baumel (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Osna Baumel, sister of Zachary Baumel
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
On the most normal of days, after monitoring a high school matriculation exam, Osna Haberman received news she had both longed for and dreaded for almost 37 years: the remains of her younger brother, Zachary, had been found in Syria.
“I had a regular work day,” she told The Jerusalem Post, less than 24 hours later and she still struggling to absorb the information about her brother’s fate.
That Wednesday, Osna had a particularly heavy schedule because she had to deliver oral matriculation exams to over 20 students.
When she was done, she took the bus home and changed into comfortable clothes when she heard a knock on the door of her Jerusalem home.
“I opened the door and 10 people in uniform stood there – even the first time [when I was told that he was missing] it was three,” she recalled.
Osna brought them into the living room. They sat down, looked at her and said: “We came to tell you something.”
Until then, she said, she had not known that the IDF had located the remains of her younger brother, who was last seen alive at age 21 – in the June 1982 battle of Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley at the start of the first Lebanon War. The family, originally from Brooklyn, had moved to Israel in 1970.
The only hint Osna had was an odd phone call the night before from the army officer assigned to keep the family informed of news regarding the search for her brother.
He called on Tuesday night to give her information that did not seem so relevant but in the process of the conversation inquired as to her whereabouts the next day.
It seemed a curious question, but fatigue kept her from dwelling on it too much. “I gave it to him and that was it” – until the military delegation arrived in her living room, she said.
Osna was given no time to sit with the news. Almost immediately, she left with the officers for her mother Miriam’s home. Her parents had waged an international battle to find their son. Her father Yona died a decade ago, and Miriam is now almost 90.
Osna entered her mother’s home alone so as not to startle her, explained that she had some guests who wanted to see her, and brought her into the living room.
The army officers gave Miriam the news and then pushed Osna to call her husband Daniel – who works as an editor at The Jerusalem Post – and their children, so that the family would already know the news before it broke on the media that evening.
“They assigned people to me to make sure that everyone knew. They had a list of the whole family. It was not so simple to get hold of everyone,” Osna said.
The entire evening passed in this kind of a rushed blur. She took a phone call from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and later went to his office with other family members to visit him. The family also had to plan the funeral.
Over the years, the IDF had kept the family informed with regard to rescue efforts, including secret developments which were not shared with the public. Osna had been promised by Mossad director Yossi Cohen that “he would not rest” until her brother’s remains were returned.
“I felt that there was a lot behind his words,” she said. He seemed “genuine” and to “really care.”
In the last few years, Osna said, she had sensed that the IDF had a lead to her brother’s whereabouts.
There was a “sensation that things were picking up, and that a lot more energy had been thrown into the situation. We didn’t know if it would bring about something or not,” she said.
However, she added, “We didn’t know that something was happening now.”
She likened the IDF knock at her door to finding out suddenly that someone who you last knew was struggling with infertility issues, suddenly had a child crying in the other room.
“As the years went on, I knew the chances he was alive were quite slim. My hope shrunk. But I was not willing to close the door. I don’t think anyone is willing to close the door on a loved one,” she said.
The news the soldiers brought her on Wednesday, she said, “was unreal.”
Osna looked at them and thought: “My mind can’t grasp this. You brought news, but you didn’t give me something that I can grasp, that I can wrap my mind around. I couldn’t absorb it and I still haven’t.”