A couple of days ago I drove with my son-in-law towards Jerusalem to pick up my daughter – his wife, and their new daughter – our granddaughter.
During the trip in, and on our way back, my thoughts wandered – back and forth.
A new grandchild. Baruch HaShem. Thank G-d. People ask 'how many?' So now I can say, from Alef to Taf. Those who understand, understand.
It was exactly forty years ago that I came to Israel. The first time was for an entire year. I was a junior at Case Western Reserve University, studying history, planning on going to law school. I'd had the idea of coming to Israeli in my head since my Bar Mitzvah, at age 13. It was my parents doing. They suggested a summer trip. I liked the idea, but for various reasons never made it.
But, while in university, the possibility of participating in a 'one-year program' struck a nerve. Sounded like a really good idea. CWRU was OK, but nothing special. Cleveland didn't do anything to me. So, being able to finally go to Israel, being far far away from anything I knew, and getting full credit for the year, it seemed like a golden opportunity.
That year in Jerusalem, at Hebrew University, changed my life. As is said, 'the rest is history.'
I came to Israel by myself. The only family I knew of here was my mom's second cousin. Presently, after forty years, I can count at least one family member in Israel for every year here. That includes my wife, her family, our great kids and their spouses, and our wonderfully cute grandchildren.
It should definitely be a time to celebrate. But it's difficult to celebrate these days.
For a minute, let's fast forward, forty years into the future. Max and Sean have been best friends for years. So much so, that they live next to each other in a city, in the heart of Israel. Years ago they served together, fighting against Hamas Arab terrorists in Gaza. And today is an especially special day. Max's youngest daughter is tonight being engaged to Sean's youngest son. Now they will bond, not just as friends, but as family.
Forty years into the future that might have been, but never will be. Actually, these two young heroes will be together, for eternity. Sean was buried in Haifa Sunday night. Max was buried in Jerusalem, at Har Hertzel, a couple of hours ago. They fought together and they died together. For the love of Israel.
I was one of about 30,000 people who crowded into the military cemetery in Jerusalem for, probably, one of the largest funerals that site has ever witnessed. Keeping in mind that the soldier being buried was not a general, or even an officer. But his contribution was certainly no less than that of any officer or general there.
Max, as well as Sean, were 'chayalim bodedim,' that is, 'lone soldiers' who came to Israel specifically to serve in the IDF, to help Israel, to be part of Israel, defending our country, our land, our people. Max was from Los Angeles, and as many of those eulogizing him expressed, he could have chosen to live an 'easy life,' near his family and friends in the US. But he decided, after participating in a Birthright mission, that Israel was for him. He literally fought his way into an elite Golani Division, after first being rejected for lack of Hebrew. He not only shined as a soldier; he received a certificate of excellence as a sharpshooter.
Much was said about his smile, his personality and his dedication. But in truth, after hearing his parent's parting words, I wasn't surprised by anything else expressed about Max. As is said, the apple never falls far from the tree.
Max's father, Stuart Steinberg: "On behalf of our entire family, we want to answer a question in the minds of many people: do we have any regrets that Max served in the IDF as a lone soldier. The answer is an unequivocal no." And after speaking for a few minutes, Stuart Steinberg ended his eulogy at the fresh grave of his oldest son with the words, "Am Yisrael Chai."
I think that says it all.
I too, with many others, shed tears for a man I never knew, but deep down inside did know, a person who decided to dedicate his life to Israel, and did so, literally. But my tears are not only of sadness. They are of rage. Because it didn't have to be. How many times will we warn, and warn, and warn, only to be ignored. How many times will we say, 'but this is exactly what we were talking about,' only to be ignored with the same trite, 'but you have to give peace a chance.'
For years I have been telling journalists and visitors about the dangers of missiles being aimed at planes flying in and out of Ben Gurion airport, shot from the Samarian Hills in a future 'palestinian state.' I've been laughed at. Except that yesterday the FAA and its European counterpart stopped all air traffic in and out of Israel because a rocket landed a kilometer from the airport, shot from Gaza.
Dozens of tunnels have been discovered, leading from Gaza into Israeli communities. Four soldiers lost their lives as a result of one such infiltration. From an anonymous message posted on whatsapp: 'Dozens of tunnels ending in the southern cities are not tunnels of terror, rather they are infrastructures for land conquest. If we had not surprised ourselves at the backlash of the boys' kidnapping, Hamas would have chosen the appropriate timing to pump thousands of soldiers through the tunnels to conquer cities and military posts. Thousands of terrorists dressed as IDF soldiers, kill, conquer and kidnap, while the IDF has no time to organize. At the same time firing barrages of hundreds and thousands of missiles into Israel's center, paralyzing organizational ability against invasion. Why did they wait? Maybe for a rainy day, and probably to coordinate with Hezbollah for an integrated missile attack in the north ... and possibly tunnels into our northern cities too ...'
And as I write this, we have just discovered a tunnel in Hebron, next to Beit Hadassah, under an Arab house, in the direction of our children's playground.
My tears are also tears of conscience, for had we only done more, maybe, just maybe, the above-written scenario describing Max and Sean in forty years might not have been an impossible dream, rather reality.
We just have to do more.
May these young, brave heroes be an example, may they look down from above, and assist to guide us, may they rest in eternal peace, and may their memories be a blessing on us, on their friends and families, on all Am Yisrael. Amen.