Community Champions

The Very Best Example of Our Community

By Connie Meyer

We have had quite a few occasions lately in Hampton Roads to dig deep and define what the word “community” really means to us.  The dictionary defines community in its first iteration as, “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.”  We think the second definition is more appropriate to us here in Hampton Roads.  “A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”  

Yosef Nissel had never met the 35-year-old teacher who disappeared in the Atlantic back in July after that teacher had jumped in to save a student.

Rabbi Bauman (above)

When Nissel learned Rabbi Reuven Bauman was unfortunately missing, he decided to leave Baltimore to join the search for his body.  Nissel is a member of the volunteer organization Misaskim of Maryland. This nonprofit helps those members of the Jewish community who are faced with tragedy.  This unique organization’s motto “alleviating tragedy with compassion, coordinating crisis with expertise”, was founded in 2004.  It provides moral support and bereavement assistance spanning the East coast. 

“When someone’s in need, you stop what you’re doing and go assist, no matter if you know them or not,” said Nissel, who has only been volunteering with Misaskim of Maryland for about a year. 

Through the entire weekend of the search, organizations from New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Georgia combined with our local authorities and local volunteers, searched area beaches for signs of Bauman. These volunteers picked up where the Coast Guard left off after they had searched the seas for nearly 24 hours with boats, helicopters and planes. The agency provided guidance on where to look for the Rabbi.

Aryeh Freedman, the president of Misaskim of Maryland, said his organization reached out to local groups that had already been searching shortly after Bauman went missing on July 9th. He offered his support, and by the next morning he had heard back with a request for more volunteers to search the beaches and the waters.

“We mobilized within probably an hour,” he said.  Six volunteers drove four and a half hours to Virginia Beach with a boat in tow. Once they arrived, they chartered a second to help in the rescue efforts.

Sadly, Rabbi Bauman was found dead on July 14th after he saved a 13-year-old student who had gotten caught in a rip current.  They were from an Orthodox Day School in Portsmouth, exploring nature while at the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  The young student was thankfully saved, but not without the ultimate sacrifice from Rabbi Bauman.  

We have a small, but vibrant Orthodox Jewish community here in Hampton Roads.  Members of our Orthodox Jewish community worship in Judaism’s most traditional form.  Safe-guarding with dignity the body of someone who is deceased is of paramount importance.  My nephews and nieces who are Orthodox explained to me that community members from far and wide would have continued to search tirelessly for Rabbi Bauman, no matter how long it took.  Jewish people believe that between death and burial, the soul of the departed is in limbo between two worlds.  The soul no longer inhabits the body after death, but until the body is laid to rest the soul cannot fully leave the body to return to Heaven.  

In this instance the role and definition of community is of the utmost importance.  Young and old, rich and poor, very observant and not-as-observant Jewish people from near and far spent tireless hours in the oppressive heat to make sure that Rabbi Bauman’s family had closure and that his giving soul had a speedy trip to Heaven.  

When tragedies occur, we immediately look to each other for help and comfort.  How great it would be if we didn’t forget in our regular, busy, day-to-day lives the importance of reaching out and being there for each other.  

The support from the local community and Jewish community was overwhelming.  Jewish media sources reported that thousands of Jewish people around the world prayed for Rabbi Bauman throughout the days of the search and committed to doing good deeds in his honor.  This is truly the very best definition of Community.

Many thanks go out to all of our local rescue teams, Coast Guard members, military personnel, and first-responders who helped in this important search.  It is great to think of them and remember them not only when we need them.  Many thanks also to state Senator Bill DeSteph, who helped mobilize and organize participants.  

At the forefront of our minds recently, with the tragedies that have occurred in this past Spring and Summer, has been the idea of community.  What role does it play in times of trouble, in times of celebration?  What does it mean to us in Hampton Roads to know that someone stands beside you and behind you?  I believe we found that it means much, not only to the students and family of much-loved Rabbi Reuven Bauman, but to all of us who live and worship in our great community.  

In Judaism, it is often said “may your memory be a blessing”.  The memories of Rabbi Bauman’s good deeds and the efforts of all who searched for him successfully will never be forgotten.