Los Angeles — (Haaretz) — The death of a 24-year-old Birthright graduate from L.A. has brought the battles taking place in the Middle East home for many in this Southern California community in a tangible and direct way – a rarity in a conflict that has been fought by proxy here via rallies and divestment votes.
Max Steinberg, originally from the upscale L.A. neighborhood of Woodland Hills, was killed in action overnight Saturday during Israeli military activities in the Gaza Strip, on a night in which 13 Israeli soldiers died.
Their death brings the total number of Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza in the last two days to 18. Another U.S. citizen, Sean Carmeli, 21, who was born and raised in Texas, was also killed in Gaza overnight Saturday.
Steinberg was a sharpshooter in the Israel Defense Forces’ Golani infantry brigade. He moved to Israel in 2012.
Steinberg’s unit was operating as part of an Israeli ground offensive that began Thursday with the stated goal of destroying Hamas’ tunnel infrastructure and reducing the U.S. State Department-designated terrorist group’s capacity to fire rockets into Israel. The tunnels are routinely used to smuggle goods into Gaza and have been used by Hamas in attempts to infiltrate Israel. The action comes after the abduction and killing of three Israeli teens and subsequent killing of a Palestinian teen which led to exchanges of missile attacks between the IDF and Hamas.
‘I’m going back in’
Steinberg was a “Hayal Boded,” or Lone Soldier – the term used for soldiers who moved to Israel without any family residing in the country. According to Evie Steinberg, Max’s mother, “His last words when I spoke to him at 4 A.M. a couple days ago were ‘Mom I’m not scared at all for me, I’m scared for you. I’m fine, I’m going back in.’”
Steinberg will be buried in Israel, according to his mother. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, a memorial was held for Steinberg last night at a local park, with hundreds in attendance.
“I want him home with me. However, he did what he wanted to do. He has his friends, his fellow soldiers, his brothers, and I know that he would probably like to be laid to rest with them,” she said.
“I still believe in what Israel is doing at this point,” she said. I still support it 100 percent. I am sorry for the children of whichever side … but as far as Hamas goes, that’s another story.”
Max’s father Stuart said his son knew the risks of serving in Golani, that they would likely be the first sent into Gaza.
“He felt that if this was his calling, that being on the sidelines, or even in the backseat, was just not going to work,” he said, adding, “Max was a free spirit.”