Too Many Funerals

Too Many Funerals

Steve Zerobnick

I went to a funeral last week with four colleagues from Keshet. It was the funeral of Max Steinberg, a 22 year old youth, who had first come to Israel two years ago on a Birthright trip and ultimately fell fighting in the war against Hamas in Gaza. He was born and raised in Woodland Hills, California, a long way geographically and conceptually from Israel and the war in which he died.

I went to the funeral because I thought that Max, a lone soldier with no family in the country, might not have many people come to say their final farewell. As we approached the area near the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery, we saw dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people climbing the hill to the mountain where he was to be buried. There were over 30,000 people there, of which only a handful had ever met Max, but his impact on this crowd of people was remarkable.

What gave Max the strength to leave behind the comfort and security of life in America volunteer in the IDF? It must come from parents like his, who came to Israel for the first time and were immediately whisked to the Mt. Herzl Cemetery to attend their son’s funeral.

When Max’s mother, Evie, started speaking, I broke down right away. “You are probably wondering the answer to the question that many have asked us since we heard of Max’s death: ‘Are you sorry that your son decided to move to Israel and serve in the Israeli army?’” she began, “My answer is clear. No. We are proud of Max and, while we’re sad about his death, we wouldn’t have it any other way.'”

His parents, Evie and Stuart, spoke together, focusing on the theme of “the missions that he accomplished and his incredible will power”. His brother, Jack, and sister, Paige, also eulogized their brother, sharing their most precious memories and confirming that, before he was a hero to the rest of the Jewish people, he was a hero to his siblings.

Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador and himself a U.S. immigrant, spoke about Max’s vision in coming to Israel and seeing in it his family and future. U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, spoke about the values shared between Israel and the U.S. and Max’s willingness to defend those values and Israel with his life. He called Max “a son of the United States and a hero of Israel”, claiming that “he represented the best of both of our countries”.

M.K. Dov Lipman, another U.S. immigrant, spoke beautifully about Max’s friendships and how many lives he had touched, quoting a childhood friend who had grown up with Max. He also quoted Bob Marley, Max’s personal hero, through a friend’s letter: “Love the life you live and live the life you love”. Max had the strength and courage to make decisions that allowed him to do just that.

In Max’s last call to his mother, Lipman quoted him as having said: “Mom, I’m not scared at all for me; I’m scared for you.  Mom, I’m fine.  I’m going back in.” Max fought bravely to better the lives of others, without focusing on personal pain or gain.

M.K. Lipman spoke directly to Max’s parents and siblings, “Your son and brother saved the lives of my children and the children of everyone here. He is the new hero of thousands of Israelis and millions of Jews around the world.” He added, “I say thank you to Max – for protecting 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; you inspire us to try and continue your legacy and to constantly ask what do we can we do for our state? What can we do for our nation?  How can we make the world a better place?”

Anything I write from here on would be banal. May we have many, many more Max Steinbergs, and may they all live long and productive lives. Yehi zichro baruch.  May his memory and his legacy be a blessing.

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