Over 30,000 people accompanied Max Steinberg, zichrono livracha, on his last journey to his resting place in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl. His dear parents and siblings were engulfed in the embrace of thousands of Israelis, brothers and sisters in arms and in heart, who did not know Max personally, but who felt the family’s loss as a personal wound.
I must admit to feeling a personal connection to Max’s story, augmented in my heart-rending encounter with his immediate family in Los Angeles. Having made Aliya to Israel in 1988 and having served in the infantry as a lone soldier in the IDF, I am intimately familiar with the swell of pride which I know must have been with Max whenever donning his IDF uniform.
It is a feeling difficult to convey in words. It is much deeper, in fact, than mere words. An internal drive; an intangible but immensely powerful – indeed unstoppable – flame of determination and confidence. A fusion of unapologetic patriotism and fierce moral conviction. As sublime and simple as two words: Ahavat Yisrael.
In an era when simple truths are no longer always seen as self-evident, when a muddled sense of ethics, misguided attitudes towards political and military realities and deliberate distortions of legal principles too often confuse common sense, it is important to restate what should be obvious to anyone with a conscience and even a minimal grasp of history: that like everyone else, Jews are entitled to liberty and are likewise inalienably entitled to defend it. And yes, even at the cost of unavoidably harming those who have been deliberately – shamelessly – placed in the line of fire by those who have set out to kill Jews and destroy Israel.
Hamas and its apologists may succeed in tarnishing Israel’s image. Voices in the international community may get away with wrongly vilifying Israel. Falsehood, villainy and even well-intentioned error could conceivably gain ground; for a while. But as Israel has shown over the millennia, and notwithstanding unparalleled calamity, these ultimately are no match for the simplicity of internal conviction and underlying awareness of being grounded in justice.
One can understand the impulse felt by some to seek comfort in superficial expressions of hope that the violence just stop, that a ceasefire be reached at all costs. Would that it were so simple. As Hamas’ terror tunnels and rocket attacks demonstrate all too vividly, inaction by Israel doesn’t result in a cessation of violence; it results in a massive terror onslaught from above and below ground. The only real choice facing Israel is between allowing Israeli civilians to be killed or striking at the terrorists. No-one among the many who have allowed themselves to criticize Israel for ‘lack of proportionality’ or ‘excessive force’ would, or could be expected to, act differently.
Nor can anyone, least of all in Israel, remain untouched by the images of suffering tragically emerging from the conflict. Yet, the attendant inclination – too common in some of the international reactions to the conflict – to incorrectly impose a balance between the sides, as if Hamas’ deliberate attacks on civilians are equivalent to Israel’s efforts to defend against such attacks, is dangerously misguided.
It is disheartening to see some, including international bodies ostensibly tasked with safeguarding human rights, accusing Israel – obviously the victim of war crimes carried out by Hamas – of itself violating the laws of war. Such charges are reminiscent of traditional blood libels or what has become the standard tactic of anti-Israel propagandists in and outside the Arab world to accuse Israel of committing the worst crimes of which the Jewish people have themselves been the victims. One may have hoped in the Twenty-First Century, especially given the sordid record of the Twentieth, that such malice would be a thing of the past. Alas, it is not. All the more reason to look in reverence at the selfless devotion of those men and women – heroes of Israel – who continue to vigilantly confront the line of fire to protect our homeland and our people.
Max and the many other valiant IDF soldiers who have risen to the challenge of defending Israel, exemplify in their courage the secret of Jewish survival throughout the millennia and the secret of Israel’s success in fending off the relentless waves of violence – physical and psychological – which our enemies persist in subjecting us to. It is not about tanks and airplanes or even about anti-missile defense systems. It concerns, rather, the profound sense of justice and purpose which nothing on this earth can ever tarnish, so long as brave people such as Max breathe life into the insight that Isaiah had already identified so long ago, in understanding the spiritual sources of physical courage. That:
“In calmness and in confidence should be your bravery.”
May Max’s memory be blessed and his example be a torch of inspiration to us all.
Ashrei ha’am she’eleh banav.