July 26, 2014

The Stories of Three Israeli Martyrs

 There was a crowd of thousands at Sean Carmeli's funeral Monday night in Haifa (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash 90)
Bravery and heroism exists on both sides in this war. Anybody who denies that is wrong.  Source of photo: Gili Yaari/Flash 90.

An excerpt from, "Killed in Gaza, American 'lone soldiers' honored by Israelis" by Daniel Ben Simon, Al-Monitor, July 25, 2014:
Of all the stories of soldiers killed in battles between Israel and Hamas, three seem to have captured the hearts and minds of Israelis. They cried for them as though these were members of their families, accompanied them to their final resting place as though they had been an integral part of the boys’ lives. Few in Israel knew the three, and were it not for the war they likely would never have heard of them. This is the story of three young Jews who bid farewell to their parents and family, moved to Israel, joined the Israel Defense Forces, served in one of its leading combat units and found their deaths in war.

The first to go was Nissim Sean Carmeli on July 20. At the age of 16 he took leave of his family in Texas and came to Israel. Two years later he enlisted and volunteered for the Golani Brigade, one of the military’s top combat units. His friends described him as an introverted young man who was shy around his Israeli-born “Sabra” friends. They spoke loudly and displayed self-confidence; he spoke quietly, even in a whisper, part of the legacy he brought with him from the United States.

When he was killed, it came out that he had been a “lone soldier,” a soldier in Israel without his parents living in the country, often a new immigrant on his or her own. His parents lived in the United States. Before the war, he had time to contact them. Immediately
after the fighting began, he fell silent. Like most of the soldiers, Sean was required to hand over his cell phone. After his parents were informed of his death, they got on a plane and made their way to Israel. News of the death of this lone soldier shocked Israelis. Entire families were glued to their television sets, as they are at such times, and anxiously followed the military’s every move and every piece of information about casualties. They felt sorrow for Carmeli’s loneliness, in life and especially in death at only 21.

In a matter of hours the call went out on social networks, appealing to people to accompany the lone soldier to his final resting place. Since he was a fan of the Maccabi Haifa soccer club, fans were asked to turn up for the funeral. Thousands of soccer fans and others announced they would be coming to the cemetery in Haifa, and that’s exactly what happened. Toward 11 p.m. on June 21, tens of thousands crowded into the military cemetery at the entrance to Haifa. Apart from his parents and a few other family members, no one from among the thousands had known Sean in life. How ironic that it was his death that brought them together.
One mourner, Sharon from the town of Kiryat Gat, told the local Ashkelonet website: “I felt I had to be here. There is something special in seeing this crowd coming to take part in the funeral of a person they did not know.”

Those who attended the funeral of Max Steinberg said they had never seen such a gathering. Like Sean Carmeli and Jordan Bensemhoun, Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old Los Angeles native, decided to start a new life in Israel. He first came on a tour with "Birthright Israel," which brings young Americans and others of Jewish heritage to visit Israel, and fell in love with the country. Two years ago, he moved to Israel on his own and enlisted in the Golani Brigade. As he was in Israel without his parents, the army designated him a lone soldier.

When word of his death spread, the call went out over the social networks urging the public to see Max off to his final resting place. According to police estimates, some 20,000 people showed up at Carmeli’s funeral, 10,000 came to Bensemhoun’s and more than 30,000 mourners came to see off Steinberg. The military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem had seen such turnouts only at the funerals of exalted rabbis.

Steinberg’s final journey was also his parent’s first visit to Israel. When asked where they wanted to bury their son, they answered “Israel.”