“It was the worst day of my life,” describes Stuart Steinberg the moment the IDF delegation arrived at his doorstep in the suburban Los Angeles area. The Israeli IDF delegation came with the most tragic news parents can get: Max was killed at a battle in Gaza, fighting for the country he loved. The situation that is familiar to every Israeli from thousands of bereaved parents’ descriptions, sounds a little different when it comes from a person who has never visited Israel, never lived the ethos of recruiting the IDF.
Soon after the Steinberg family got the tragic news they had to make a decision about where their son, Max, should be buried. The natural thought was, as his father said, to bring him home, to Los Angeles where he was born and raised, where his family lives until this very day. A family friend convinced him that his son’s place was where he chose to tie his fate, in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Stuart says he was worried that his son would be buried in a small ceremony. Nevertheless, over 30,000 Israelis attended Max’s funeral. These people came to pay their last respects to the lone soldier, and to wrap his family who came to Israel for the first time in her life.
The late Max was not the only lone soldier in Israel. There are almost 7,000 lone soldiers serving the IDF. Some of them — immigrants and volunteers from abroad, and some — Israelis lacking a family background. The IDF does much for these soldiers — offering them special courses and training in Hebrew or basic skills required, through improved conditions to help soldiers succeed in their military service. But as much as the IDF does for these young men and women, there are things a military body cannot support. Every Israeli mother knows that her own son or daughter needs support, warmth, laundry and food and other treats when he or she gets home. What will happen to the lone soldiers? Who will give them this important family mantle?
The Lone Soldiers Center in memory of Michael Levin (LSC) was established in 2009 in light of the dream of another lone soldier who fell in battle, the late Michael Levin. Michael dreamed of a place that would function as place where soldiers could spend time, eat Saturday and holiday meals, wash their clothes, and feel at home. Michael’s friends, along with Ciki Ode who is currently working at the center, responded to his vision, and set up a home in this spirit. Today, the center serves over 1,000 soldiers a year. The Center is active in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Beersheba. The LSC serves as a social club and provides Shabbat and holiday dinners and entertainment venues. The center also provides counseling services to soldiers before, during and after their military service. This broad activity is possible due to thousands of supporters and volunteers. These people open their hearts to the benefit of the lone soldiers,and make the legacy of Michael levin a living reality. It is exciting to be at the heart of this activity that is draining the beautiful face of Israeli society.
The Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin’s Memorial Day ceremony will be broadcast on Mako and on the LSC Facebook page. The ceremony will be held in Hebrew and English.