Zachary Baumel was born in Brooklyn New York on November 17, 1960. He is the youngest son of Yona and Miriam Baumel. Zachary (known as Zak), has two older siblings — brother Shimon, and sister Osna. In a strange twist of fate, Zak’s “godfather”– an uncle — was also a POW. He was the last American prisoner of war to be repatriated to the U.S. after the First World War.
Until the age of ten, Zachary attended the Hebrew Institute of Boro Park (also known as Yeshivat Etz Chaim). Then in 1970, Zachary and his family immigrated to Israel, moving to the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Motzkin. Zak was enrolled at the nearby State Religious School, and later attended Midreshiat No’am High School in Pardess Hannah. Miriam his mother, jokingly refers to the teenage Zak as “an indifferent scholar,” who “much preferred the basketball court to the classroom.”
After graduating high school, Zak chose to do his military service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Hesder framework, which combines religious studies and army service. Zak split his time between religious studies at *Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut, and the I.D.F. Armored Corps, where he eventually became a tank commander. During this period, while continuing to be an exceptional basketball player, Zak began to seriously invest himself in his studies. He was subsequently appointed dorm counselor for American students who had come for a year of study, who needed assistance in adjusting to the rigorous program of study at Har Etzion. Many of the most active members of the campaign to secure the release Zachary and his colleagues were his fellow students during this period.
Zachary had nearly completed his military service, when he was called up to serve in the Lebanon War. He has been accepted for the coming semester at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and was planning to study psychology. During that fateful summer of 1982, he had also secured a job working with youth from abroad as part of a Jewish Agency program. On June 11, 1982, just hours before the declaration of a cease-fire, Zak and his colleagues were sent into battle near the Lebanese village of Sultan Yaqub. 21 Israelis were killed that day, and many more were injured. Three soldiers — Zachary Baumel, Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, are still missing.
Zak’s last message to his parents, delivered on a postcard shortly before the battle, asked for a few personal items and concluded with a brief note of assurance to his worried parents: ” Don’t worry, everything is okay, but it looks like I won’t be home for a while.”
Over the last two decades the Baumels have traveled the world following every clue and knocking on every door, that might bring closure for themselves and the other MIA families. They have pursued information on the MIAs by establishing a network of contacts throughout the region comprised of former Israeli intelligence personnel, contacts in the Arab world, and individuals associated with the international intelligence community. Having endured the unimaginable anguish of being the parents of a missing child, they have also become the address for the parents of other MIAs (both Israeli and Arab) who have needed help in their own search for information regarding their missing children.