Over the past week, klal Yisrael united in prayers upon hearing about a rabbi in Virginia who jumped into the ocean to save a 13-year-old student and then was swept up by a rip current and out to sea himself. We held our collective breath during the dramatic five days of the search for him, first as a rescue mission led by the US Coast Guard, and eventually in a recovery mission. On Sunday afternoon, his body was finally found by a Misaskim boat off the coast of North Carolina. But who was this rabbi, previously unknown to klal Yisrael at large, who gave his life to save a student, who united us in prayer?

Rabbi Reuven Bauman, a 35-year-old rebbe, one of 12 children of Rabbi Mark and Esther Bauman of Teaneck, was a brilliant rebbe who dedicated his career and life to strengthening smaller Jewish communities. In 2010, he, his wife Tzivia, and their two young children set off to join in rejuvenating a kollel in Savannah, Georgia. Though they might have understandably felt out of place down South, they jumped into their roles of reaching out, being m’chaneich those who had a limited Jewish education, never making anyone feel judged or lesser for it.

Community members who encountered him recalled him exactly as his brother-in-law, Yisroel Schwartz, did: “Reuven had a gift,” said Schwartz in his eulogy. “He always made you feel like somebody. He always made me feel good every time I spoke to him.” I spoke with a few of Rabbi Bauman’s friends from Savannah who echoed the same sentiment. A. D. Garfunkel told me, “He always had the biggest smile on his face. He was the type of person people just wanted to be around. He was the definition of a friend.” Similarly, Adam Singer shared, “I knew him as a kind, sincere, smart, happy and honestly humble man. He was easy to like and easy to feel close to.” From this, it is clear that he made everyone feel like they were family.

The Bauman family moved to Norfolk, Virginia, in 2015 so that Rabbi Bauman could accept a position as a rebbe at Yeshiva Toras Chaim. So dedicated he was to his students and their realities, that he recently took upon himself to write a book geared to boys who struggle to enjoy learning Gemara. Yanky’s Amazing Discovery is about a boy having a difficult time in yeshivah, and it takes readers through inspiring stories of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky. It was published just over a year ago, and in case you’re interested in purchasing it, the publisher has verified that the family will receive the full profits of each sale. It should be a nechamah for the family and a merit for him. He was a dedicated teacher down to his core, as Rabbi Sender Haber, leader of Congregation B’nai Israel in Norfolk, praised him as “a beacon of light to the Norfolk community, noting that one who teaches a child who cannot learn Torah from his own parents is gifted with the ability to transmit the Torah exactly as if it was being spoken by G-d on Mount Sinai.”

At a crowded l’vayah at B’nai Israel, Rabbi Bauman was eulogized by his father, who spoke with complete emunah that his son’s neshamah had undoubtedly reached the heavens immediately after the group lost sight of him, “a method of death accorded to the greatest of tzadikim.”

Yisroel Schwartz also spoke of the tremendous kiddush Hashem that resulted from all the mitzvos, T’hilim, learning, and prayers that undoubtedly “propelled Reuven’s neshamah higher and higher and higher, so high. He lived his life to make a kiddush Hashem. We all know he left here with the absolute greatest kiddush Hashem that we were able to accomplish for him.”

Voz Is Neias reported that the call line that was set up so people could listen to the hespeidim could accommodate up to 40,000 callers and maxed out, leaving numerous more callers with a recording informing them that the call was already at capacity. It has been reported that another 1,000 people accompanied his burial at King Solomon Memorial Park in Clifton, New Jersey. He was buried in the front row of KAJ’s section among its most prominent members, a sign of gratitude and respect for Rabbi Bauman’s efforts at saving the life of his student.

Rabbi Reuven Bauman z”l was a hero among the Jewish people before last week; m’siras nefesh for his students was only further proven with his final act of heroism. May his neshamah have an aliyah.

A Charidy campaign has been created to help the Bauman family, to benefit his five children in particular. 

By Rachel Goldsmith