In Memoriam: Rabbi Reuven Bauman

by | Aug 10, 2019 | Obituaries

Rabbi Reuven Bauman

The passing of Rabbi Reuven Bauman, of blessed memory, 35, was a tragedy that captured the attention and hearts of Jews around the world. Thousands followed the events in the news, many prayed on his behalf, and dozens of people from organizations and communities around the country put aside their daily lives to take part in the search effort to locate his body which had been lost at sea after he heroically swam out to rescue a student in distress.

The six days between his disappearance and when he was finally found and brought to his final resting place brought Jews of disparate stripes together, bound by a heartbreaking cause.

Yet, nowhere was he missed more acutely than in his hometown of Norfolk. I still walk into B’nai Israel every morning expecting to see him at his seat beginning the day with intense, but humble prayer. As I leave the minyan I still look toward his seat to wish him a good morning as he quietly finishes his daily Psalms. I miss the erudite congregant and friend who listened intently to my sermons and always followed up with a question and then followed up a few days later with further research.

It wasn’t just me. Adults who attended Rabbi Bauman’s weekly class felt a connection with the Torah portion each week and knew that he was always looking for feedback and thinking seriously about everything he shared and heard.

And then there were the children. Behind the emotional news story of an elementary-school rebbi whose last earthly act was to save a child in his charge is the story of a phenomenal teacher, who in his short life touched many other lives. With gentle character traits, an infectious love of Torah, and a genuine sense of respect and caring for his fellow Jew, he connected to the children, sharing his knowledge and love of Torah in and out of the classroom. Students felt like he understood them and they welcomed his attempts to help them understand the world of adults and rules that they might not be enamored with

A scion to a family steeped in Torah and Jewish education, Rabbi Bauman was also an heir to the strong traditions of the Khal Adas Yeshurun community which was transplanted from Germany to the United States after World War II. The hallmark of this community—which can be traced back almost 1,000 years in Frankfort-am-main—is an understated punctuality and preciseness, and Rabbi Bauman was no exception.

Reuven Tzvi Bauman grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey. His father, Rabbi Menachem (Mark) Bauman has served for many years as a rebbi in the Rosenbaum Yeshivah of North Jersey. He also previously served as the general studies principal of Yeshiva Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (YRSRH) in Washington Heights.

As a young man, Reuven spent several years at Yeshivas Bais Moshe in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he sharpened his skills and studied diligently before spending a period of time studying in Israel.

He married Tzivia, the daughter of Rabbi Yoel and Suri Stern. Shortly after their wedding, the couple moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey, where Rabbi Bauman joined the city’s community kollel. In 2010, they moved again, this time to Savannah, where Rabbi Bauman became a member of that city’s kollel. While in Savannah, Rabbi Bauman studied together with, and developed close bonds with, many of the small community’s members. One class he delivered presented a methodical study of the central commentators on the Torah. The care he put into preparation of the shiur is still evident in the careful marks left in his Mikraos Gedolos edition of the Chumash.

In 2016, the Baumans moved to Norfolk, where he took the reins of Toras Chaim’s oldest class.

“Rabbi Bauman had an ability to connect with a student, and with a look had a way of telling each one that he cared,” Rabbi Mordechai Loiterman, Toras Chaim’s principal, told Hamodia. “He had a kindness and gentleness, and a calm sense of order, a positive attitude towards everything. He took being a rebbi very seriously and was very professional and prepared a great deal.

“Rabbi Bauman was a real talmid chacham [Torah scholar] and a tremendous man of character who had an air of leadership that made you feel that you were speaking with someone far older than 35. He will be sorely missed by all of us.”

Rabbi Bauman’s ability to bring the lessons of Judaism to a younger generation is not only left behind in his students, but in Yanky’s Amazing Discovery. The children’s book he authored tells the tale of a boy who is inspired to overcome his struggles in yeshivah by stories about Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, of blessed memory.

At the funeral in B’nai Israel, Rabbi Mark Bauman opened the eulogy for his son with words of gratitude to the many who volunteered in the search effort and many more who prayed and offered support to the family during their time of hardship.

“The struggles you have gone through seem no less than what we have gone through,” he said. “I honestly feel that my family was not going through this alone…I would like to express our appreciation to all the volunteers, we will always remember what you’ve done.”

“Last Rosh Hashanah,” Rabbi Bauman surmised, “it was decided that Reuven’s time was up, there was no discussion about that, but G-d gave Reuven the merit not just to move on…but to make his last act a tremendous mitzvah,” he said.

From Norfolk, the funeral continued to New Jersey, where Rabbi Bauman was laid to rest in the Khal Adas Jeshurun section of King Solomon Memorial Park in Clifton—right next to the heads of that historic community.

Rabbi Bauman was an exceptional father, husband, and son. He was, and remains, a role model for myself, my children, and for many others.

One particularly poignant moment was a tearful phone call I received from a caterer who has worked out of the B’nai Israel kitchen. He saw the story on the news along with Rabbi Bauman’s picture and turned to his wife. “You see that guy?” he said, “that’s the Rabbi who pokes his head into the kitchen every time I cook a meal to tell me how delicious it was.”

That was Rabbi Bauman. Quiet and soft spoken, but passionate, consistent, and pleasant to everyone around him. He truly reflected the Torah he studied and taught.

May his memory be a blessing.

Rabbi Sender Haber

Portions of this article are used with permission from an article by Rafael Hoffman in Hamodia, July 15, 2019.