(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
The stark transition between Remembrance Day and Independence Day was striking to Evie Steinberg, who experienced it for the first time while in Israel with her husband to commemorate their son Max, who was one of 67 IDF soldiers killed in Operation Protective Edge last summer.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s overwhelming, but in a good way,” Evie Steinberg said, describing how all morning on Independence Day the family was approached by people who knew Max or had never met him, and wanted to pay their respects.
Steinberg is in Israel with her husband, Stuart; the Defense Ministry flew them in to take part in Remembrance Day and Independence Day commemorations. Max’s sister lives in Israel and studies at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. Another child, Jake, was on a speaking tour in the US with the Friends of the IDF and did not make the trip.
St.-Sgt. Max Steinberg was a 24-year-old Golani Brigade soldier from Woodland Hills, California.
He and six other soldiers were killed when their 1970s-era M-113 armored personnel carrier broke down and then was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in the eastern Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaia in the early hours of July 20, 2014.
When Steinberg was buried at the capital’s Mount Herzl Military Cemetery
two days later, some 30,000 people came to bid farewell, most of whom had never met the lone soldier who came to Israel and joined one of the IDF’s most storied units.
On Thursday, as the country celebrated Independence Day, his mother took a moment to go back to that day, and the difficult choice to have Max buried in Israel.
“My first decision was to say I’m coming to bring him home, but within a few hours of seeing how he was embraced by Israelis I felt that he belonged here and it was more important for him to be here. He’s so respected and admired here; at home he would be alone unless we were visiting him. Here I know every day people will visit him,” Evie Steinberg said.
“Here he has a lot of Jewish mothers to take care of him,” she added.
In Israel, Evie and Stuart are also doing work for the Los-Angeles-based organization Families of Lone Soldiers, that was founded in the past year to provide assistance to lone soldiers and to help their families keep in touch with them.
They also attended a ceremony at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba where they have established a scholarship fund in Max’s memory.
A week and a half ahead of Remembrance Day, Channel 2’s investigative news show Uvda aired an episode that focused on the so-called “APC disaster” in which Max and his comrades were killed. The feature focused on the decision to send the soldiers into the Hamas stronghold in an old, poorly armored APC that they had never trained with.
Evie said she watched the episode in Jerusalem along with one of Max’s commanders, who translated it for her in real-time.
“We have questions and there’s conflicting stories that we want to get to the bottom of,” she said, adding that it was upsetting to hear that “maybe these boys weren’t given the best chance to survive that they could.”
In the meantime, she said she wants to meet with Max’s commander Lt. Ohad, who had gotten out of the stalled APC to get in touch with fighters on foot, and survived, and was interviewed throughout the feature.
“He’s 22 years old and he’s devastated and we want to be there for him.”
In the months to come, Evie Steinberg will be busy with the Families of Lone Soldiers and events to honor Max, including a planned dedication of a Torah scroll to Steinberg's battalion for Max’s yahrzeit, which the family is raising money for.
For now, though, she takes a pause every day to think of her son and fall apart.
“Every day I have my crying moments. I say [to myself] every day you have a half hour and you can get hysterical,” Evie said, adding that she puts on a recording of the IDF cantor, whose words she can’t understand, and listens to his chant as she cries for her son.
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