It has been a tough week for so many people around the entire world. But for Jews especially it is been one full of tragedy. While it is tough to see so many people in Gaza dying, who might not even have any affiliation with Hamas, it is heartbreaking every time we hear another Israeli soldier has been killed. As I am writing this, the number of Israeli soldiers killed in the current operation is 43, plus 3 civilians dead. While most Jews here in America have friends and/or family in Israel, it still seemed like it was a distant conflict. This past week that changed, at least for me it did.
I was at home last Sunday when I saw on the news that an Israeli soldier from California was amongst those killed in battle. I saw the name Max Steinberg and immediately thought to myself, ‘I know someone with that name.’ After thinking about it for a minute, I realized it was who I had thought it was. I am the same age and was in the same grade as Max. We attended the same middle and high schools and graduated together. While it would be an overstatement to say we were friends, we were definitely acquainted with each other and had interacted multiple times throughout our teenage years. That is when this war hit home with me. I knew someone killed in battle doing the most honorable thing possible, protecting Israel and Jews throughout the world.
Shortly after hearing the sad news, I found out there was going to be a vigil in his honor that night. There was no way I was going to miss it. From that moment until now and hopefully for much longer, I have the feeling that this man died protecting the Jewish people and I can’t do a simple thing like attend a ceremony in his honor? And that’s all I want to do right now. I want to honor this man who gave his life. In just the last two year’s he has done more good than most people accomplish in their entire lifetimes. He gave up the easy life living in California to go serve Israel and the Jewish people. Even though his vigil was planned just hours before it started, there were several hundred people who attended, most of whom never even met Max. It made all the local news channels and even on some national news broadcasts. His family attended and spoke, leaving most attendees in disbelief that they could appear so strong after hearing the worst possible news. This is an example of how Jews right now are more united than we have been in a very long time.
This past Wednesday was Max’s funeral in Israel. His parents went to Israel for the first time to bury their child. They have no family in Israel, which would make you think there would only be a small crowd to help them say goodbye to their son. The number of attendees at the funeral was reportedly 30,000. That shows how united Jews are and how much people respect and honor someone who gave their life to protect them. Israel has about 4% of the population the U.S had in 1963. Yet proportionally, more than 200 times as many people in Israel attended Max’s funeral than attended John F. Kennedy’s funeral after he was assassinated. It is amazing to see how much honor he is bringing to his family, as they have been visited by John Kerry, Mike Bloomberg, and many other diplomats and politicians.
I have read many negative comments and posts on social media about Max and other soldiers. One comment I have seen multiple times is someone asking why Max or another American would go to Israel and serve in the IDF, rather than serve in the American military. I cannot answer for Max, but I know why I would make the same decision. People serve in the American military to help keep the country strong. Meanwhile, people serve in the IDF to keep Israel and the entire Jewish people in existence.
Many people like Max are able to see how important Israel is to the Jewish people. After everything the Jews have gone through to receive the land of Israel, and everything Jews have done over the past few thousands of years protecting that land, now is not the time to stop fighting. It’s true not everyone can serve in IDF, especially those of us outside of Israel. However, we all have the opportunity to help our brave soldiers win this fight once and for all. We need to support the soldiers in every way possible and do as many mitzvahs as we can in their honor as well. Facebook posts and Twitter hashtags won’t save lives. Even though the soldiers are doing an amazing job protecting the country and people, they could still use our prayers. I hope and pray that no one has to hear about someone being killed and realize they know that person. I hope this terror ends soon and we all see peace.