An ongoing battle

The Sultan Yakub Battle and MIAs are remembered this week at the Ramban Synagogue.

Sunday evening marked 26 years since the Sultan Yakub battle when IDF soldiers Zecharia Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz were taken captive during the First Lebanon War. Family members and friends gathered at the Ramban Synagogue in Katamon for an evening of memories and prayer. "We learn from Ya'akov Avinu when separated from his son Yosef for many years that when an issue remains open, there is no consolation," said congregation leader Rabbi Benny Lau. "The starting point is that they are still missing, and thus decision-makers should not leave one stone unturned regarding resources, manpower and checking information in order to find them." Educator Avi Rath, a tank commander who participated in the Sultan Yakub battle, said he had trouble believing that 26 years later the doubts were so great. "We who fought there have two clocks: one for our regular schedule, and the other that stopped on the morning of the 20th of Sivan. There is no joy like that of solving an uncertainty." Speaking for the families were Yona and Miriam Baumel, parents of Zecharia, and members of the Ramban Synagogue. Yona Baumel defined the relationship to the IDF as one of love-hate with "love for the efforts of officers trying to find the missing, and hatred toward those sweeping information under the carpet." He criticized the IDF's decision to declare Baumel, Feldman and Katz as fallen, based on assumptions without credible evidence to back them up. "Today we believe that all of the promises made by the army and the government are not worth the paper they're written on. The nation did not demand more efforts for the Sultan Yakub missing. The feeling was 'it won't happen to me.' And it has happened since to others. It's now understood how much we need the support of the entire nation." Miriam Baumel noted that the occasion was the first time an event took place on the date of the battle. She spoke of the importance of responsibility for one another and the trait of compassion. Also participating were the families of Katz and Feldman, as well as relatives of soldiers who fell in the battle. "The belief that the government was doing everything to bring me home gave me strength during my two years in captivity," recalled Chezi Shai, who was in the tank crew at Sultan Yakub and held captive until 1984. "I hope that they all return home." The memorial evening was interspersed with interludes of expressive songs, Psalms and prayers performed by musician Bernie Marinbach on the clarinet. The audience joined in the Aheinu Kol Beit Yisrael (Our Brothers of Israel) prayer. Also in attendance was Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat, who learned about the MIAs during combat as a commander during the First Lebanon War. "Every soldier thought then what would happen if it were me. We discussed that the maximum would be done to bring us home. This sacred value is so necessary for our soldiers' motivation. Today we see pressure from the nation to release the MIAs [from 2006]. The leadership has to work more from above to ensure their release. In addition to the importance for families and community, pidyon shvuyim [redemption of captives] is also important for our national strength." Rath recalled that our forefather Abraham dealt with pidyon shvuyim before any of his other hessed activities, when he went to redeem his nephew Lot. "When we work to release the captives, it is not only for them but it helps our conscience. Chezi Shai's presence here shows that the Sultan Yakub MIAs are not virtual or museum characters, but real people." "It's already 26 years that Zecharia is not here. We don't have many expectations. But we deserve one thing: closure," declared Yona Baumel.