Michael Levin was visiting his parents in the US when fighting erupted in northern Israel. So he cut his vacation short, hopped on a plane and rejoined his Paratrooper Brigade unit.
St.-Sgt. Levin was one of three soldiers killed Tuesday in clashes with Hizbullah in the southern Lebanese village of Aita al-Shaab.
When he first rejoined Battalion 101, the 21-year-old Philadelphia native was given duties on the home front, but that wasn't good enough for him, Tziki Aud, head of the Jewish Agency's information center for new immigrants, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday.
"Michael fought this decision. He wanted to go up to Lebanon. He got his wish, as we all know now all too well," he said.
His parents and two sisters, one older and one his twin, were due to arrive Thursday in time for the 4 p.m. funeral on Mount Herzl.
Aud said he wasn't aware of how Levin's family reacted when he chose to curtail his trip, but did say that "they were very supportive of his decision to make aliya and join the Paratrooper Brigade."
One of Michael's friends recalled comments Levin had made last week about the risks he faced and his ties to his family.
"I'm not worried about dying. I'm worried about what it would do to my family," the friend quoted Levin as saying.
Levin made aliya at 18 and lived on Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi before enlisting in the army. For the last five months, he shared a Jerusalem apartment with two other lone soldiers.
"It was his dream to make aliya and join the army," said Davida Kutscher, who met Levin four years ago through Camp Ramah and reconnected with him when they ran into each other in Jerusalem.
She described him as "full of energy, funny, sweet. He was always friendly and dragging people into the conversation. It was always such a great feeling to see him."
"Mike left an impression on everyone he met," another friend said. "He was very personable. I am sure that if you would go to Zion Square in Jerusalem right now, you would find a thousand people who knew him."
Another friend from Camp Ramah, who spoke to the Post from Philadelphia, had spent time with Levin during his recent visit to the US.
"I was with him two weeks ago when he came back to the States to visit, and he seemed completely normal - always upbeat and fun to be around, despite the fact that he said he was going back to Israel for the war," said Jake Cohen.
"He came to camp when he was home two weeks ago because he would never miss a chance to be with his friends," said Rabbi Todd Zeff, director of Camp Ramah in the Poconos, where Levin was a camper for eight years. "His friends were really proud of him. They all learn and teach about Israel, but he was the one that actually followed through and made aliya. They couldn't have been more proud of him, which made the news that much more difficult."
A friend who knew him from Israel, J.J. Jonah, said that a highlight of Levin's life in Israel was receiving his beret at the ceremony marking the completion of the initial stage of basic training. "It was his happiest and proudest moment. There was nowhere else in the world he would rather be," Jonah said.
Aud described Levin as a special yet humble human being. "I am certain that if he were to hear all this praise, he would say it was all nonsense. He was not a big guy. In fact, the first time he parachuted, he strayed off course because he was not heavy enough. The next time he jumped out of a plane, they attached weights to his parachute."
He might have been small in stature, but that didn't keep him from taking on his share of assignments and then some, according to Kutscher.
In fact, she said, he once had to push his officer to join him on a mission one Friday afternoon a few months ago. When they were finishing up their shift in the West Bank, a car sped past with no license plates. The officer wanted to let it go, but Levin was insistent, pointing out that in America the only people who drove without plates were thieves.
Levin finally convinced his officer, they chased the car, and when they turned in the driver and passenger, they were told they had captured two Palestinian fugitives, Kutscher recounted.
"It was such a great mix of his Americanness and his Israeliness," she said. "We were so proud of him."
Kutscher and some 15 other friends of Levin's gathered in Jerusalem after hearing of the news.
She said the truth didn't sink in until they saw his picture in the newspaper and on TV screens. "You can't imagine that someone so sweet and so innocent and so young could really be the name in the paper."
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