Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

Max Steinberg: Living a life of Meaning

In Judaism it does not matter how long one lives, what matters is what one does with ones life. Max Steinberg packed more meaning into his twenty-four years than most people manage in a lifetime.   As Billy Joel wrote, “only the good die young.”

Max Steinberg was, until last week, a name most of us were unfamiliar with. He was one of the few thousand of Chayalim Bodedim (“lone soldiers”) in the IDF. Those brave ideologically motivated and selfless individuals who leave the comforts of their homes and family in the western world and come to serve our Jewish homeland in the most meaningful way.  All of these soldiers swear the induction oath of the IDF:

I swear and obligate myself on my word of honour to remain loyal to the State of Israel, its laws and its legitimate administration … and to devote all of my strength, and even to sacrifice my life, in the defense of the homeland and the freedom of Israel.”

Max was laid to rest at Mount Herzl Cemetery today, where his family was joined by tens of thousands of fellow Jews from across the political, religious and ethnic spectrum from all over Israel and abroad who came to pay tribute to his memory and his heroism. They came to pay their last respects to someone who “walked the walk” of Zionism. Max’s name and deeds will live into eternity.  (


Max Steinberg z”l

Chana Szenesh, another youngster from the diaspora, also buried at Mount Herzl, wrote a generation ago about striving to seek meaning in purpose in life. At the age of seventeen on the eve of her Aliya to Israel, just prior to the outbreak of WWII she wrote:

“I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned that I’ve become a Zionist. This word stands for a tremendous number of things. To me it means, in short, that I now consciously and strongly feel a Jew, and am proud of it…One needs something to believe in, something for which one has a whole-hearted enthusiasm. One needs to feel that one’s life has meaning. That one is needed in this world. Zionism fulfills this for me.”

Max felt that Zionism gave his life meaning. It was something for which he had a whole-hearted enthusiasm. It made him proud to be a Jew and it makes us proud.

Much has been made of the fact that Max went on a Birthright trip and that is where he found what he believed in and acted on it. As a guide for Birthright since its inception (and a former lone soldier in a combat unit) I can say that the only “agenda” of Birthright is to try and foster the participants with a positive connection to their land and heritage. Most participants come away from a Birthright experience and realise that is not a burden to be a Jew but rather a privilege.

One of the ways this connection is made is through the Mifgash. “Mifgash” is the loosely translated Hebrew word for a “meeting,” that is in this case a direct physical encounter between Israeli and American peers during the Israel trip.   The Mifgash enables Israelis and Americans an opportunity to spend time getting to know one another in both formal and informal settings. The Mifgash is a uniquely effective pedagogical tool for increasing the participants’ understanding of one another. It is a structured encounter between individuals and also, a meeting of two worlds.

Max, after meeting these special young men and women, and hearing the stories of those who gave their lives for our freedom during the visit to Mt. Herzl decided that passive Judaism is an oxymoron. He realised that “to Jew is to do!” He was inspired by the words of another American Lone Soldier, Michael Levin, who gave his life for the defense of Israel in 2006 during the Second Lebanon War. Michael wrote:

You can’t fulfil your dreams unless you dare to risk it all.

Max died as he lived, leading by dugma ishit (“personal example”). Zionism gave a meaning to his life and he gave a meaning to Zionism by his life, and ultimately with his life. It does not matter how long one lives, what matters is what one does with ones life. Max lived a full life with no regrets. May his life and memory be for a blessing.

Remember that there is meaning beyond absurdity. Know that every deed counts…Above all, remember that you must build your life as if it were a work of art.”


― Abraham Joshua Heschel

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order:
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