Dear friends – as we stand here today, saying farewell to Max Steinberg, we must ask: What could motivate a young American to leave the comforts and security of a loving home with a more familiar future ahead of him, to move to a land where he had no family, no friends, could not speak the language, was in greater danger, and had an uncertain future?
Max made his decision to move back to Israel while on a Birthright trip to Israel in 2012, specifically while standing here, on this mountain, when he came across the grave of a fallen soldier who came from America to fight in the IDF. What sparked inside of Max when he had that experience?
I think the answer can be found in words that Max’s mother related to the press in the United States – “He felt that if this was his calling, that being on the sidelines, or even in the backseat, was just not going to work,” – Max heeded the call of Moses as we read in this past week’s Torah portion: “Will your brothers go to war while you remain here?”
And to understand this decision one step deeper, we need to look no further back than the last words Max shared with his mother: He reached her at 4 a.m. – early Saturday morning – after coming out of Gaza for a brief refreshing break – and he said, “Mom I’m not scared at all for me, I’m scared for you. I’m fine, I’m going back in.’” Those last words say it all – concern for his mother but not for himself.
Worry for his beloved state, but not for himself. Fear for the well-being of his Jewish brothers and sisters, but not for his own. This describes the ultimate giver – the person who doesn’t ask what most people ask – what can I do for myself – but the person who asks what he can do for others, even if that means personal risk and harm.
Evelyn and Stuart – your son is a Jewish and Israeli hero. Jake and Paige – your brother is a Jewish and Israeli hero. He is a hero on two levels.
HIS FIRST level of heroism is the fact that he saved lives – plain and simple.
Max fought to make sure that missiles will not keep falling in our cities, and to destroy the tunnels of terror from Gaza. Max fought so that our children can have hope to live the way he himself was raised – without having to run to shelters because of air raid sirens and without the fear that terrorists may tunnel their way into their neighborhoods to kill them or kidnap them.
Mr. and Mrs. Steinberg, Jake and Paige – it is true – today we join you in mourning the fact that you won’t dance with Max at his wedding, that you won’t see Max as a father, and that you won’t see where his free spirit would have taken him.
But your son, your heroic son, gave his life to save the lives of many others – of thousands of others. Your child and brother made a decision that there are things worth dying for and he died for them – thereby helping millions of Israelis live in peace and quiet.
And this leads to the second level of Max’s heroism.
Max Steinberg, is the newly found hero to hundreds of thousands of young Israelis, and to millions of young Jews around the world. Max is causing young people to refocus on what is important in life. Look around you. Look at the masses of people who have come to pay respect to their new hero.
Max has helped to rekindle the Zionistic spirit that gave birth to this state, and has reminded all of us of the blessing from God, the special merit that we have to live as a free people in our land – as well as the sacrifices we must make to maintain this reality.
It is my hope and prayer that this realization provides you with some level of comfort. You raised a hero.
And your brother was a hero.
I hope you feel the collective hug of the people of Israel and know that we will always be here to embrace you and to support you in any way that we can.
Max – now it is time to say goodbye – but before we do so I turn to you as a representative of Knesset, and on behalf of the citizens of Israel and Jews around the world to say thank you.
Thank you for protecting our children, thank you for protecting our state, thank you for protecting the Jewish people, and thank you for showing us that a regular American boy from California can raise himself to the level of Jewish and Israeli hero.
Max, all of us will try to continue your legacy – and every day ask ourselves as you did – what did we do for our state, what did we do for our nation and what did we do to make the world a better place.
Rest in peace my brother who I never met. May your memory serve as a blessing and an inspiration for us all.
The author is a Knesset member for Yesh Atid.