Tens of thousands of mourners paid their final respects to Sgt. Max Steinberg, the slain IDF soldier who was laid to rest on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Steinberg, the Los Angeles native who immigrated to Israel and enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces as a lone soldier, was among the 13 soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip on Sunday. Twenty-nine Israeli troops have been killed since the army launched its ground incursion into Gaza last week.
Steinberg, 24, grew up in Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley, attending the local El Camino Real High School and Pierce College before taking part in a Birthright- Israel trip in 2012. He was so inspired by his experience that he returned to Israel just three months later and joined the IDF as a hayal boded, or “lone soldier,” and worked hard on improving his Hebrew so he could join the elite Golani Brigade – where he served as a sharpshooter.
Matan Halak, 23, a copywriter at Anashim Media in Beersheba, met Steinberg on the Birthright program. The two grew closer when Steinberg returned to Israel and chose to live in the Negev city.
“Max was one of my best friends in the world,” Halak told The Jerusalem Post. “He joined Golani and lived his dream – to fight terrorism and to save his people.”
Halak said the two spoke last Friday and Steinberg promised to take care in Gaza. “His big smile will be with me forever.”
“I feel like I lost my other half, my soul-mate, my big brother.
He believed that the connection between Israel and the USA is forever and he was always happy to serve in the name of his country,” Halak said.
That connection was keenly felt in America – especially in Los Angeles – when news of Steinberg’s death was released.
Outpourings of love and support were posted on Steinberg’s Facebook page, and his younger brother Jake changed his profile picture to one of the two of them standing in front of the Western Wall.
On Sunday night, family, friends and members of the community who didn’t know Steinberg, but wanted to pay their respects, came together at a local park near the family’s home. They lit candles, shared stories, and sang “Hatikva” and the Golani Brigade anthem.