May His Memory Be a Blessing
There is no more touching – and revealing – story to emerge from the Gaza war than the life and death of Sergeant Max Steinberg, the American “lone soldier” who was killed fighting for the State of Israel, his adopted country. He made his decision for aliyah during a Birthright visit in 2012. At the Har Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem he found the grave of a soldier who had come from the United States to fight for the Jewish state. Inspired by his example, twenty-two year-old Steinberg left Los Angeles for Israel to become a sharpshooter in the elite Golani Brigade. Now he, too, is buried in the Har Herzl cemetery.
In a remarkable outpouring of sorrow and respect, 30,000 Israelis attended Max Steinberg’s funeral. Lest he be buried in solitude, without due honor for his heroism, they came to demonstrate their respect for someone they did not know who made the ultimate sacrifice for the Jewish State. In his eulogy, MK Dov Lipman (who also emigrated from the United States) recounted the words of Moses in last week’s Torah portion: “Will your brothers go to war while you remain here?” Max Steinberg knew the answer to that question.
At the memorial service in Los Angeles his father described Max as “a free spirit.” The pleasures of Los Angeles life – surfboarding, skateboarding and football – proved insufficient. He “fell in love” with Israel, a friend remembered, after his Birthright experience. “He wanted to get his life straight. He thought it would get him away from dangers here.” It did so, while exposing him to far greater dangers. His IDF unit was assigned the destruction of Hamas’s underground maze of tunnels, its source of unrelenting missile and cross-border terrorist attacks against Israel.
In his final telephone conversation with his mother at 4 a.m. last Saturday morning he told her: “Mom, I’m not scared at all for me, I’m scared for you. I’m fine, I’m going back in.” A friend recalled Max’s enthusiasm for Israel: “He loved it. He loved the people. He loved his unit. He felt like he belonged.” Another friend posted on Facebook: “You are our hero, our inspiration, our savior. Thank you for protecting us.” As Knesset member Lipman told his parents at the funeral: “your son is a Jewish and Israeli hero.” Bidding farewell to Max Steinberg, he offered thanks on behalf of Israeli citizens and Jews worldwide, “for protecting our children, . . . our state, . . . the Jewish people, and . . . for showing us that a regular American boy from California can raise himself to the level of Jewish and Israeli hero.”
The predictable counterpoint to expressions of sorrow and gratitude for Jewish heroism in the face of Hamas terror came from The New York Times. Its ongoing barrage against Israel was encapsulated in an Opinion essay by Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer (7/23). He succinctly described Gaza, where “nowhere is safe. Not a mosque. Not a church. Not a school, or even a hospital.” He did not indicate that Hamas rocket attacks on Israel provoked and sustain the conflict. Mentioning damaged and destroyed homes, he notes the impossibility of rebuilding – because cement is “severely rationed” by Israel, which “suspects” that it is used to build tunnels to facilitate Hamas attacks. Suspects?
On an inside page Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren reported from Sderot, one mile east of Gaza, whose residents have been targeted by rockets ever since the Israeli departure nearly a decade ago. There she discovered Koby Hill, where middle-aged men, comfortably seated on a sofa and beach chairs, contentedly munched watermelon and cheered the spectacle of the Israeli rocket “show.” To be fair to Rudoren, who is rarely fair to Israel, she did better than the CNN reporter who (in a Twitter post) recently described Koby Hill Israelis as “scum”.
In its coverage of the Gaza war the Times exemplifies moral equivalence at Israel’s expense. But Max Steinberg – the brave “Hayal Boded” (Lone Soldier) who sacrificed his life for his people and his adopted homeland – represents what Israel alone can provide: inspiration and courage to confront unrelenting enemies who seek to annihilate the Jewish State.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author, most recently, of Jewish State Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy (Quid Pro Books, 2014)