JNF Wire: Two Years After His Death, the Story of Lone Soldier Max Steinberg Lives On
July 21, 2016
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
Two Years After His Death, the Story of
Lone Soldier Max Steinberg Lives On
By: June Glazer
Max Steinberg’s parents, Stuart and Evie, with JNF-Ammunition Hill Liaison Yoel Rosby,
at Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem.
In Israel, the story of a Los Angeles native Max Steinberg has become the stuff of legend. A lone soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), on July 20, 2014 he was killed in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge and is buried in the country’s national military cemetery at Mt. Herzl. Just 24 years old when he died, more than 30,000 people attended his funeral. Two years later, crowds at his gravesite still make it difficult to get near.
Who was Max Steinberg?
“Max, his sister Paige, and his brother Jake visited Israel for the first time on a Birthright trip back in 2012,” recalled their mother, Evie Steinberg, in Israel with her husband this week, Stuart, to observe the second anniversary of Max’s death. While visiting Ammunition Hill, the country’s national memorial to the battle for Jerusalem that took place at that spot during the Six-Day War, the couple spoke about their eldest son.
“As a family, we never talked about Israel, but Max got inspired on their Birthright trip and called us to say he wanted to join the army. We told him we’d discuss it when he got home and three months later he was flying back to Israel to become a lone soldier,” Evie said. Lone soldiers are those military personnel, mostly from abroad, who have no parents in the country.
Max had his heart set on joining the famed Golani 13 Brigade. Even though the army initially rejected Max for combat service because he did not speak Hebrew well enough, he persevered and eventually was accepted as a sharp shooter in his chosen unit.
“He had made friends while in basic training and he wanted to be with them,” said Evie, who recounted a story one of them told her and Stuart after Max died. “When the new recruits were on the bus heading for basic training, everyone was scared. But there was one person grinning from ear to ear, and that was Max.
“We had never seen him in his uniform, and because he was so proud of it he wanted us to see him in full dress,” she continued. “So, he came home and surprised us. It was late at night, and I was already asleep, though Stuart was up and answered the door when he arrived. I heard a noise in the bedroom and woke up. When my eyes adjusted to the dark I saw a silhouette. It was Max in uniform. I couldn’t believe it. We just hugged and hugged.”
On that trip back home, Max left his dog tags in a drawer, even though he knew it was an army violation for which he would be grounded.
“When Max was killed in heavy fighting, the army brought us to Israel the next day and took us to a room at the airport,” said Evie. “It was before I knew the circumstances of his death, and I wanted to identify his body and see him. They explained to us that there had been an explosion and that Max was identified by dental records and DNA. That was shocking to hear. Then, I asked for his dog tags and they said they didn’t have it. I was very upset by that.”
A few months later when Evie and Stuart were back in Encino, she was going through Max’s drawers and found the dog tags he had left there. The discovery reduced her to tears, and she has worn it around her neck ever since.
Because Max was a lone soldier, when he died word went out over Facebook and other social media urging Israelis to attend his funeral. The turnout was overwhelming, with some 30,000 lining the streets to honor him.
“We were in the car and saw all these people. We were still in shock and had no idea what was going on,” Evie remembered. “Our escorts turned to us and said, ‘You don’t understand. They’re here for you and for Max.” During shiva, held at a local hotel, one evening some 7,000 came to pay their respects. “The authorities had to close the nearby streets. It was crazy,” Evie said.
Now, at Ammunition Hill, she and Stuart were there to see a plaque bearing Max’s name with his years of service (2012-2014) that had been donated by someone anonymously after hearing Max’s story. The plaque is mounted on a Wall of Honor erected by Jewish National Fund to honor all Jewish soldiers and is one of three donated by the same individual to honor not only Max, but also fellow lone soldiers Jordan Bensemhoun and Nissim Sean Carmeli. Currently, 366 men and women who have served in uniform around the world are inscribed there.
“To know that Max is included among the brave soldiers listed on this wall makes us very proud,” Evie said. ‘Being in this place and remembering him like this is what helps us get through [the grief].”
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