If the Golani soldier Max Steinberg, who was killed in an armored personnel carrier attack in Saja’iyya in the Gaza Strip, could come back to life just for a second and look around him, he would have discovered that he was no longer “lone.” Over 30,000 people attended his funeral at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. The number of people there who actually knew him could be counted on two hands. Maybe.
Max was born to a typical American Jewish family on the West Coast of the U.S. He had a brother and a sister. A mother and a father. And he followed a typical path. He was an excellent sportsman, who loved football and played it well, and he was very good at a number of different sports. Two years ago he decided to join his two siblings, Jake and Paige, on a Birthright trip ─ and at a visit to Mt. Herzl, after discovering who was buried here, he made the decision to return and volunteer to serve in the IDF as a soldier.
His mother and father spoke at his graveside with thousands of people watching ─ and none of them moving away from the grave. They spoke about how he had contacted someone who brought him to the IDF, and how he went to the IDF Recruitment Center and asked to join Golani. The Golani Brigade was magical to him, and he was not willing to give up on it. After going through the testing process, he was told that he wouldn’t be drafted and he responded, “There are two options: One, I go straight to the military jail. Two, I return to the U.S.” He was drafted to the Brigade, to the 13th Division, one of the Brigade’s four divisions.
One of his friends displayed his certificate of excellence as a sharpshooter, and spoke about how he did not know of any area in which Max wasn’t absolutely the best. And more importantly, he was even tempered, very friendly ─ and when he was asked when he would learn Hebrew, he answered that he knew the commands very well.
His younger sister Paige, weeping, talked about how much she counted on her older brother, how he always calmed her down and told her that things would be OK. And his brother Jake quoted the words of the singer that they both loved, Bob Marley, who sang:
“Live for yourself and you will live in vain;
Live for others and you will live again.”
“That’s how he lived,” said his brother, crying as he talked about their last meeting, at their home in California, when it seemed like everything was just as it had been when they were small, and they watched a documentary film about Bob Marley. “You’ve set a very high bar, Max, and I really hope that I won’t disappoint you.” Not a single person moved ─ though not everyone understood the English spoken by the parents and family.
The fresh grave of Max Steinberg is just a few meters away from the grave of an American Jewish soldier who has turned into a legend: Michael Levin. There are flowers on Michael’s grave, and the hats of children and teens who come to place a wreath in his memory. Some of them are Birthright participants or participants in other programs.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who attended American summer camps as a camper and a counselor, spoke at the funeral and said that the relationship between Israel and the U.S. also includes the story that finds its expression in the life story of Max Steinberg.
Soldiers from the 13th battalion in which Max served were present at the funeral, as were many public figures and residents of Jerusalem.
Max’s Mom, Evie, said that she wanted her son to be buried next to their home in California but, “I understood that this would be for my own reasons, and when I see the great love that he received here, I understand why he fell in love with Israel, and that this is his place. He needs to be here.”
There were those who quoted the line from Bob Marley that matched the attitude of one of his fans ─ obviously, Max Steinberg:
“Love the life you live;
Live the life you love.”
That was Max Steinberg, an American Jew who turned into a legend in Israel.