Captives — with an ‘s’
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Captives — with an ‘s’

Shame on all who turned Gilad Shalit into a cause célèbre. Shame on all who shined so bright a spotlight on this one young man that it dimmed almost to darkness any light on Israel’s other soldiers missing in action.

Keeping the faith: One religious perspective on issues of the day I pray for Shalit to be returned to his family, but there are others who need to be repatriated and, once upon a time, we could name most of them, if not all. Today, thanks in no small measure to the almost exclusive emphasis placed on Shalit, the other soldiers are fast becoming the forgotten MIAs.

Ron Arad has been an MIA longer than any of the others. He was born in Israel to Batyah and Dov Arad on May 5, 1958. A chemical engineering student at The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Arad was called back to active service in the Air Force in the summer of 1986. He served as a navigator on F-4 Phantom jets.

On Oct. 16, 1986, his plane went down near Sidon in Lebanon. He and his pilot parachuted to safety. The pilot was dramatically rescued by a helicopter under fire (he clutched the vehicle’s skids and swayed precariously in the wind as it flew him from the scene). Arad, unfortunately, was not rescued in time. He was captured by the Lebanese militia Amal. The mostly Shi’a group is headed by Nabih Berri, currently the speaker of Lebanon’s parliament. Newspaper reports earlier in 2009 suggested that Arad is still alive.

Guy Hever was born in Tel Aviv to Rina and Eitan Hever on May 30, 1977. He and his parents later moved to Kochav Yair, then a community-in-formation in Israel’s central district. It was named for Avraham “Yair” Stern, founder of the infamous pre-statehood Stern Gang. Hever was a computer enthusiast and science fiction buff. He was stationed at an army base on the southern Golan Heights when he disappeared on Aug. 17, 1997. He was last seen in an area a little over a half-mile from the Syrian border.

The man who supposedly was the very last American POW to be repatriated to the United States after World War I was sandek (godfather) at the brit of his nephew, Z’chariah Baumel, whose 49th birthday was observed a little over two weeks ago, on Nov. 17. The Brooklyn-born Baumel attended yeshiva in Borough Park until he was 10. At that point, he, his parents Miriam and Yonah Baumel, and his brother Shimon and sister Osna made aliyah.

In Israel, Baumel was in the hesder program, attending Yeshivat Har Etzion while also serving in the Armored Corps, eventually becoming a tank commander. He also reportedly was passionate about basketball. He was mentoring American students trying to adjust to life in Israel and the Alon Shvut yeshiva when the First Lebanon War broke out in 1982.

At the end of this month, Tzvi Feldman will mark his 53rd birthday. Described as “soft-spoken and artistic,” he was born on Dec. 29, 1956, in Tel Aviv, to P’ninah and Avraham Feldman. His father is a survivor whose entire family died in the Shoah, including the grandfather after whom Tzvi was named. Feldman’s mother came to Israel from Morocco. In mid-1982, having completed his active military service, Feldman was looking forward to marrying his girlfriend and entering college when he was called up at the outbreak of the First Lebanon War.

Y’kutiel Y’hudah Nachman Katz – Y’hudah, for short – was born on July 18, 1959, in Ramat Gan, to Sarah and Yosef Katz, both of whom were survivors. Like Z’chariah Baumel, Katz was in the hesder program, pursuing his studies at Yeshivat Kerem B’yavne while also serving in the Armored Corps. Katz is said to have a keen sense of humor. In mid-1982, he is said to have been the star pupil in his class at YKB and had his eyes set on a career as a rabbinic scholar. At yeshiva, it is said, he was so intent on his studies that he barely slept four hours a night.

Just 10 days shy of the end of his active military service, Katz joined in a pitched battle against a Syrian army unit at Sultan Yakoub near the Beka’a Valley on June 11, 1982. Katz was captured that night, along with Z’chariah Baumel, Tzvi Feldman, and Y’hudah Katz. Also captured with them were Chezi Shai and Aryeh Lieberman, both of whom eventually were freed in separate prisoner exchanges.

At one point, the Israeli government concluded that Baumel, Feldman, and Katz were dead, probably killed in action. New evidence, however, suggested that this designation was premature and the government re-listed them as MIAs.

Israel’s most recent MIA (with the exception of Gilad Shalit) is an Israeli Druze named Majdy Halabi. He was born in Israel on Dec. 22, 1985, to Fahmiya and Nazmi Halabi in Dalyat El Karmel in Israel’s mountainous north. He was last seen in the middle of the afternoon of May 24, 2005. His uncle, a retired Israel Defense Forces colonel, reportedly stated his belief that Halabi was seized by Palestinian terrorists and is being held somewhere in the territories.

The ransoming of captives is considered a given in Jewish life. This is made clear, for example, in a Tosafot commentary to a passage in the Babylonian Talmud tractate Bava Batra (8b) that states that “the redemption of captives is a religious duty of great importance.”

The Tosafot noted that there exists what appears to be a contradiction between this passage of g’mara and one found in BT M’gillah 27a. The second passage, they note, “says that one may not sell a Torah scroll except for the purpose of enabling people to study Torah or helping a woman get married.” Clearly, financing the redemption of captives is not among the exceptions cited. Then again, said the Tosafot, it did not have to be included because “this is so obvious that [the Sages of Blessed Memory] did not even have to mention it.”

To be sure, the focus has been on Shalit because there is a virtual certainty that he is still alive. To date, however, there is no evidence to substantiate a claim that any of Israel’s other MIAs are dead.

Miniature dog tags bearing the names of the missing hang from the chain holding my car keys. They were purchased a couple of years ago through the Orthodox Union and they are a constant reminder of these soldiers and the need to bring them all home. When Gilad Shalit is brought home, as I pray he will be, my chain will be one dog tag lighter.

Just one tag lighter. There are others.

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