Tribute to Fallen Soldier, Max Steinberg

The following note was written by Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, an American-born Conservative rabbi who made aliyah and who is the retired Director of the Conservative Yeshiva at the Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem, regarding the funeral yesterday of Max Steinberg, the Los Angeles born and raised young man who made aliyah, volunteered for the IDF and was killed in Gaza on Sunday. Max is one of two US citizens in the IDF who have been killed in Gaza.  A similar story took place the night before at the funeral in Haifa for his US comrade Sean Carmelli. 

Ada and I attended the funeral of Max Steinberg this morning here in Jerusalem. When pulling off the Begin highway north, towards Shaare Tzedek Hospital and Har Herzl, the traffic was already jammed. Tens of thousands of people who never heard of Max Steinberg before yesterday were coming to his funeral. We parked half a mile away, illegally, and joined the crowd.

On arrival at the cemetery area, young women soldiers gave each person a piece of paper.  I thought naively it would be about Max Steinberg.  In fact, it was a message from the Home Front Command, “Guidelines for Protection within the Cemetery in case of a Rocket Alert.”  When’s the last time you were told on attending a funeral that you have 90 seconds to take cover if there is a siren?  “Lie on the ground and protect your head with your hands.  Wait 10 minutes and then you may resume your routine.”

The huge crowd was all over the cemetery and it behaved very non-Israeli – there was no pushing, no cell phones range, complete silence, even during the remarks in English by Max’s parents and sister and brother. Max’s father said he had no regret that Max had decided to leave Los Angeles and come to Israel and join the IDF.  Max’s brother Jake recalled their last time together, watching a film about Bob Marely, of whom Max was a big fan: “Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?” Max had found satisfaction and meaning in Israel, Jake said. He concluded with another quote from Bob Marley: “Live for yourself and you will live in vain; Live for others, and you will live again.”  Max, he said, addressing the fresh grave, “you lived for others.  You will live in the hearts of all us, again.”

I recalled a statement made by our wise colleague Chaim Listfield over 35 years ago when we were learning Brachot Mishna 7:3, about enhancing the name of God in the zimun before Birkhat HaMazon.  In practice we follow Rabbi Akiva, by adding “Elohenu” for any crowd over 10, but the Mishna gives Rebbi Yossi Hagalili’s view that for 100, and 1000, and even 10,000, the name of God is enlarged.  And “when there are ten thousand v’hu, and one more…” it changes the invitation to bless God.  “This is amazing,” Chaim said, “you can have 10,000 Jews together, and one more comes, and he/she makes a difference.”  We were not close to the burial area, we couldn’t see the family (though there were speakers so we could hear), but we could feel that every Jew there made a difference.  We came to pay last respects for Max Steinberg and to support his family, and we came away saddened and strengthened.  Max “will live again,” but the “routine” we returned to after the funeral will never be the same. Yehi zichro baruch.

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