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"Today on Tisha Be'av here in Jerusalem, the place where our hearts have been breaking throughout Jewish history, they are breaking once again," Rabbi Allen Silverstein said Thursday, speaking to the hundreds of mourners who packed the Mount Herzl military cemetery Thursday evening to honor St-Sgt. Michael Levin.
Levin, 21, was one of three soldiers killed Tuesday in clashes with Hizbullah in the southern Lebanese village of Aita al-Shaab. An immigrant from the United States, he had been living in Israel for the last three years.
Silverstein, Levin's uncle, pointed out that his nephew was named for a relative who also fought bravely on behalf of his country, a decorated World War II veteran. Levin also had another link to the war, as his grandfather was a Holocaust survivor.
"We will all miss Michael," he said. "But we will continue to be inspired by his passion and his love of Israel."
That sentiment was reflected in the large crowd, mourners who endured a broiling sun despite fasting in honor of the holiday. Hundreds of American and Israeli friends, family from the United States and fellow soldiers from his paratroopers battalion came to pay Levin their final respects.
Among those present were his parents and two sisters, one older and one his twin, who arrived in Israel earlier on Thursday.
Those who knew Levin through the army praised his family. Tzviki Levi, who works with lone soldiers, said emotionally, "A Jewish family who lives on the other side of the sea, [whose son's life] ends as a soldier and a bearer of the red beret ... I will never, never forget you."
Another soldier, who was fighting alongside Levin at the time of his death, told his blood relatives that their unit will "always [be] Michael's family, and you are, forever, one of us."
As the sun began to fade, a second member of Levin's battalion ended his remarks with a final word to his fallen comrade: "In the end, all that is left is the light - the light that is as bright as the sun, and the happiness that you brought to everyone with its rays. All of this will stay in our hearts forever, and will help us to carry on. Thank you, Mike, for being who you were."