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Max Steinberg: A Real American Hero

Not so long ago, American Jewish children learned from their parents to love the State of Israel. Even secular, assimilated American Jews gave their kids charity boxes to collect nickels and dimes to plant trees there, as the parents do in Woody Allen’s 1987 film Radio Days. But that was a time when Jews remembered the tragedy of the ship St. Louis, with its hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazis and not a single country willing to take them in.

Only a generation or two later, so low is the interest in the miracle of Israel that warm-hearted Jewish philanthropists have had to create Birthright, a program that actually pays for young Jews to visit their homeland.

For us in Israel, this fact has not gone unnoticed.  The growing distance between American Jewry and the Jews of Israel had its most profound expression in the election of the current American administration, arguably the most hostile to Israel in American history. Despite what I believe were numerous clear signals that this president would be hostile to the Jewish state, from his association with a church that honored Louis Farrakhan to his use of advisors such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, 70 percent of American Jews voted for him.  My attempts to deter those registered on my pro-Israel mailing list from doing so were met with hostility and an unsubscribe notice. But what stuck in my mind most were those who responded that they were Americans first and had to do what was best for America.

That American Jews had come to the conclusion that American interests and Israeli interests no longer coincided was—to say the least—frightening, an extreme and telling indication of the ignorance and naiveté eating away at a once proud and united  American Jewry.

Perhaps this is why Israelis came out in the tens of thousands to pay their respects to Max Steinberg, a “lone soldier” from California who fell in the recent war against Hamas in Gaza and was buried on Mt. Herzl among Israel’s heroes. On a sweltering day in August, while rockets were still being fired and sirens were still blaring, they stood in the shadeless heat listening to eulogies in English that most didn’t understand. They came because Max was a rare American Jew who had left his family and birthplace behind and joined his fate to that of his brothers and sisters in Israel.

While the current number of lone soldiers from America is reportedly 1,500, the true statistic is difficult to gauge because many of these are Israeli-born whose parents left the country. Israelis would consider them Israeli. Max Steinberg is certainly not alone, but let’s face it, when there’s a conflict in Israel, most American Jews don’t even come on vacation to five-star hotels, let alone send their sons to the Israel Defense Forces.

 Israelis responded by weeping for Max as one of their own. They honored his desire to be one of them, to protect their lives, their values and the little homeland they have carved out of this hard planet so that the next St. Louis might find a port.

Rather than joining Israeli Jews’ emotional tribute, some of Max’s fellow American Jews viewed his death quite differently. It is perhaps indicative of the current ugly morass among many young American Jews that on the day Max was buried, Slate published an article by senior editor Allison Benedikt that asked whom to “blame” for Max’s death and wondered how “a Birthright trip convinced an American with shaky Hebrew that he was ready to die for another country.”

The article was shocking not only for its revelation of the demise of Jewish solidarity with Israel but for its ugly denunciation of what have long been considered core American values.

I would argue that in fighting against Hamas, Max Steinberg was honoring a deep, lifelong American heritage that urges one to stand up against evil and injustice.  He was following in the footsteps of people who didn’t speak Spanish but nevertheless went to Spain to fight against fascism during the 1930s and of people who didn’t speak English but nevertheless volunteered to fight alongside American troops against Hitler.

American Jews aren’t sure of these shared values anymore, maybe because they don’t see America standing up for freedom and against evil—instead pulling out American troops as fast as they can, allowing atrocities in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan.  Young American Jews are also in a state of flux, to put it kindly, on Jewish values, siding with the left on most issues, including Israel.

That an American Jewish writer should think it fitting to “honor” one of her own by suggesting he was brainwashed by a single trip to Israel—a Jew who had the courage and integrity to join body and soul with Israel against Hamas, a barbarian terrorist group whose goal is to wipe every Jew off the planet—is more evidence of the decline of both American and Jewish values in what was once the greatest bastion of human freedom the world has ever known.

Max bucked this norm, and in so doing he managed to bring honor to both his birth country and his homeland. His decision is one that he and I and every American who makes aliyah to Israel have to make based on faith, kinship, history and a deep appreciation for their own particular place in history. Max’s own belief—as his siblings told the thousands of us who crowded together at Mount Herzl—was that in the words of his beloved Bob Marley, “Live for yourself, and you will live in vain. Live for others, and you will live again.”

This article was originally published in the September-October 2014 issue of Moment Magazine.

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6 comments on “Max Steinberg: A Real American Hero”

  1. Jon Stevens Alon

    I’m sickened by the cowardly self-righteous fake humanists Leftist Jews, and the worst slime in the world Hassidic Neturei Karata of Brooklyn who hate Israel as much as the Arabs and seek its demise. I’ve had hmicidal thoughts watching these creature parade around NYC in their ridiculous Hassidic garb denouncing Israel and its Jews as “not the real Jews”, while the freaks that they are who create anti-Semitism everywhere (they were kicked out of Guatemala recently) call themselves “real Jews”, these cowards who never served in the IDF as I did in 1973, and think if ever the Arabs won or a Hitler came to power they would be spared. What a joke.

    The Palestinians do one thing right, they kill their traitors and drag their bodies through the streets. Unfortunately Jewish traitors get away with demonizing Israel. I’ve developed such a deep hatred fort them that I turned my back on Judaism and converted to Evangelist Christianity. They may have their own agenda, but at least they support Israel. During the war, the pastolr of our Brazilian church wrapped himself in an sraeli flag, and we prayed for Israel.

    Max, indeed he is a hero. God bless his soul. I grieve for his loss, and admire every American Jew who serves in the IDF. The day of the American Jews will come as anti-Semtism is on the rise in America greater than ever before with Madoffs, and their likes. They may deny it but the Jews are hated more than ever, and much of this hate is self created by these worthless merecenary selfish give a damn about nothing but their dollars or racist extermist religion. I know…since as a proud Sephardi I don’t look like these ugly Brooklyn Hassidic Jews they subjected me a great deal of pain to the point, that I, a Sabra, became an anti-Semite.

    To me the IDF is the best Judaism has to offer. I love every soldier as if they were my own children which is why I’m so sad re Max and other brave Israelis who have returned to Israel to serve in the IDF with honor. I did it too and I’m proud. I returned to America, and fortunately married a Brazilian Evangelist Christian 10 years ago who I love dearly and she loves Israel. I was amazed b y the love for Israe,l by the Brazilian Evngelists. I hope one day we can go to Israel, and maybe stay.

    Sad but true, gotta give credit to Muslims, Arabs, for standing up in soldiraity with Palestine. Wish the Jews did the same, however, not to repeat myself, they lack any honor or dignity as evidenced by them voting to Israel’s hater Ovomit, may his soul rot in hell. Even more sadly, my son is one of them.

    Thank God for the IDF or there would be no Israel. Sababa, IDF. I love you.

  2. David

    There is, unfortunately, a growing anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses, which many young Jews are unequipped to deal with. J-Street, with it’s empty promises of peace, has captured the hearts of our Jewish youth, and indoctrinated them to supporting a peace movement first, Palestinian rights second, and Israeli rights 3rd.
    Fortunately, however, there are a significant number of zionists in the U.S. still, and we realize that we need to be louder, stronger and more organized than ever before. Many American Jews realize more than ever the importance of Israel in an ever-growing more anti-Semitic world.

  3. Morgan J Moss

    I drafted into the IDF with Max, he was a good friend of mine. Went through training together…

  4. Wayne Levin

    Here’s a link to the Slate article Naomi cites. Comments are not possible there. If it were I would have written that her words are remarkably narrow. This is what passes for thought? A young Jew who fights for Israel instead of the country of his/her birth suggests lacking allegiance to the latter. As Naomi points out so well, this is nothing new in other situations. I met a dutch man who fought in the American army during WW II. He could have sat on the sidelines but didn’t.

    I’m grateful to Max and his parents and I’m dreadfully sorry for their loss. I hope his family will find comfort in his most worthy mission: the fight for freedom for all people’s of the region.

  5. Dana

    It is so sad to see how a trip such as birthright, is criticized so deeply by another fellow Jew, as a “brainwash” of an American boy into making Alyah and joining the IDF. Sadly, my daughter is in first year university and has met a girl in her residence,she the only other Jew. This girl was on birthright THIS Summer (!) and yet she has joined the ranks of students for solidarity for Palestinian human rights in Gaza.
    It’s sickening, not even a free trip to Israrl justifies this behavior, what’s going on with these kids??? I don’t even think the PEW research showed this type of animosity among young Americans against Israel.

  6. martin

    I am 80 years old and come from a generation when every Jew loved Israel and it frightening to listen to many many young Jews who have such animosity toward Israel..We would love to move back to Israel but the govt. doesn’t seem to care about seniors,especially when it comes to mortgage your books..shana tova….Martin Hiotzman

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