Yosef Nissel had never met the 35-year-old teacher who disappeared in the Atlantic last week after he jumped in to save a student.
When Nissel learned Rabbi Reuven Bauman, z'l, was still missing, he decided to leave Baltimore to join the search for his body.
“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. The nonprofit helps those in the Jewish community dealing with tragedy.
Through the weekend, organizations from New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Georgia combed area beaches for signs of Bauman, Nissel said.
Bauman died on July 9 after saving a 13-year-old student who got caught in a rip current while on a school trip at the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
The volunteers picked up where the Coast Guard left off last Wednesday after searching the seas for nearly 24 hours with boats, helicopters and planes. The agency provided guidance on where to look.
Aryeh Freedman, the president of Misaskim of Maryland, said his organization reached out to local groups that were already searching shortly after Bauman went missing on July 9. He offered his support, and by the next morning he had heard back with a request for more volunteers.
“We mobilized within probably an hour,” he said.
Six volunteers drove 4½ hours to Virginia Beach with a boat in tow. Once they arrived, they chartered a second.
Bauman's heroic behavior was unsurprising to those who knew him, said Rabbi Mordechai Loiterman, the principal at Toras Chaim where Bauman taught.
“His commitment to his students was his life’s mission,” Loiterman said. “It wasn’t a job he was doing; this is how he defined himself.”
Bauman, who had five children, taught his own son in third grade last year, as well as a class of seventh and eighth grade boys. But he treated all of his students with equal kindness.
“He would always worry and care about the emotional well-being of his students,” Loiterman said.
With class sizes of up to 10, Bauman found it easy to develop tight relationships with faculty and students, many of whom would come back to visit even after graduating.
Bauman was also close with the Toras Chaim parents, Loiterman said, who all go to synagogue together. In addition to teaching their children, Bauman taught a class for parents to understand what their kids were learning.
“His connection to his students, his connection to the families, it was second nature to him,” Loiterman said.
While he mainly taught religious studies, Bauman was also passionate about theology.
“I think that he had a particular fondness for teaching Talmud because it was a class that would teach the students how to think,” Loiterman said.
A search begins
Bill Pappas Jr. had started planning for a search as soon as he heard about Bauman.
The 43-year-old captain of Playin Hookey Charters started timing the tides and tracking patterns of the currents last Wednesday night with the intention of lending a hand.
“I went as hard as I could,” he said. “I was making grids and patterns.”
Pappas was raised in Hawaii but has been fishing near the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge for about 20 years, he said. He figured his knowledge of the waters could prove useful, so he agreed to spend 12 hours Thursday on his boat with volunteers from Chaverim, another emergency services nonprofit comprised of several Orthodox Jewish volunteer organizations on the East Coast.
“I was determined to help this family get some closure,” he said. “And I wanted to figure out what had happened in my own backyard.”
Pappas could typically make about $1,500 before tips for a 12-hour charter, but, he said, he didn’t think twice about accepting their offer for $100 an hour even though it meant turning down other opportunities.
“When it came to booking one or the other, I knew which one I should do,” he said.
By 7 a.m. he and three volunteers set sail on his 25-foot boat. He gave them a crash course in steering, he said, so he could stand up in the pilot house with binoculars, scanning the horizon and providing direction.
Pappas also brought his 8-pound dog Mango on board, and she kept a watchful eye from her perch on his shoulder.
“She was trying her hardest, and the crews loved her too,” he said. “It kept them in better spirits.”
But even with experienced charter captains, hard-working volunteers, and dedicated dogs, by Thursday night, there were still no signs of Bauman’s body.
'One last pass'
By Sunday, volunteers knew the drill and got to work that morning, scanning the coasts and beaches while others looked from shore.
“We had a crew from here that walked over 20 miles in the heat just scanning the beaches,” said Nissel, the Misaskim volunteer.
They traveled by boat along the coast from Rudee Inlet down to the North Carolina border, where they met up with a crew in a rented Jeep around 1 p.m. Nissel spoke on the phone with the Jeep's driver, who told him if he traveled about 3 miles out to sea, the murky water turns clear and seaweed gathers in large clumps.
“He said, 'That’s where you find anything that goes missing,'” Nissel said. “We were pretty much done for the day after being on the water for about 25 hours over the course of three days … but we decided we were going to make one last pass.”
Nissel and his crew went out about a mile in that direction at about 1:30 p.m.
That’s when they finally spotted Bauman’s body near the North Carolina border.
One volunteer called 911. Another phoned the Coast Guard. A police chopper showed up right away, relaying words of encouragement from overhead while the volunteers stayed to keep the body in sight.
In another 40 minutes, marine police and an EMS boat arrived to retrieve the body. Read more at Pilotonline