LOS ANGELES — It’s a rare event where a memorial service not only references Bob Marley, but also gets an audience on its feet singing along to one of his greatest hits, “One Love.”
But that’s what happened on Tuesday night when over a thousand flocked to the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills to honor the memory of lone soldier and Los Angeles native Max Steinberg. A sharpshooter with the elite Golani 13 brigade, Max, 24, was killed during Operation Protective Edge alongside six of his colleagues in Gaza on July 19.
The event was designed to educate about Max: the former little boy with an enormous smile was a prankster, a scrappy youth, standing barely 5’3” with a huge heart. A man whose Hebrew wasn’t good enough to join the Golani unit on his first try but who studied hard enough to join a month later; a man who adored Bob Marley and whose love of Israel and the Jewish people led him to lay down his life for them.
In the wake of the rabid violence and anti-Semitism that has been seen throughout the world over the Israel/Hamas war, local officials weren’t taking chances. Dozens of police flanked the theater on busy Wilshire Boulevard and metal detectors and security guards greeted attendees.
Inside though, the event felt more like a family reunion as many people who knew and loved Max – and hundreds who didn’t – came to hear his story, pay their respects and honor a local hero.
As Temple of the Arts Rabbi David Baron noted, “We are here for a very simple reason. To acknowledge Max’s heroism and self-sacrifice and to offer words and actions of comfort to his family.”
Just prior to the evening’s proceedings, a Bible signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the theater for the family. The inscription read: “To the Steinberg family, in memory of your beloved son Max, a hero of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva Synagogue wrote a simple memorial prayer, capturing Max’s story of a young man whose connection to Israel and decision to join the IDF stemmed from his first visit to the country on a Birthright trip in 2012. As Levy poignantly noted in the opening to that prayer: “It is possible to arrive in a new land as a stranger and to suddenly know you are home.”
MK Rabbi Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), who officiated at Steinberg’s funeral on Jerusalem’s Mt. Herzl, flew to Los Angeles for the event. “It’s an honor to stand here as an official representative tonight of Israel, of the Knesset,” he said. “[Max] not only defended me, my wife and four children and millions of others, he also succeeded in lifting the spirits of an entire nation.”
Childhood friends of Max and other lone soldiers he trained and served with shared their memories with attendees, as did his younger brother and sister, Jake and Paige.
Paige spoke of how before Max died she had been struggling to decide where she would begin her university studies. Now, she told attendees, she plans to study in Israel. Jake, said, “You’ve set the bar so high, Max. You’re incredibly inspiring. I wish you could see the amount of people that are here just for you.”
Max’s parents – Stuart and Evie – said that in the wake of their son’s death they had hoped to fly him back to Los Angeles to bury him, but finally understood why he needed to be buried in Israel. Their first visit to the country was for Max’s funeral, which 35,000 people attended.
“It was not until after we experienced Israel that we truly had an understanding of the beauty of the land and the people. The people that Max was willing to fight for, to die for,” Evie said.
She added, “We are not the most religious family by any stretch of the imagination. That being said there is no doubt in any of our minds that [Max] was put on this earth for a mission… and that in his very short life he fulfilled it.”
‘There is no doubt in any of our minds that [Max] was put on this earth for a mission… and that in his very short life he fulfilled it’
Stuart shared the story of how Max always had difficulty getting back to base on time after coming back from weekend leave. When he was being reprimanded by his commander he would say, “I don’t understand Hebrew.” Max’s commander told Stuart they were willing to let his tricks slide, “because he more than made up for it in his dedication, work ethic and leadership. They could always depend on him and said Max was the hardest working soldier in their unit.”
Evie and Stuart also spoke of how deeply Max was affected by the tour of Mt. Herzl on his Birthright trip. “Max is [now] resting in peace [on Mt. Herzl] with Theodore Herzl, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister Golda Meir and tens of thousands of other heroic soldiers,” Evie said.
The family shared their visit to Yad Vashem and learning that their tour guide was the daughter of parents that escaped from Poland. She told them Israel was here today because of soldiers like Max. She also, like many others, thanked the Steinbergs for raising a hero.
“But we don’t know Max the hero,” Stuart said. “Only the baby, the bumble bee that went trick or treating, the athlete, the actor, the brother, our son, the love of our life.”
Evie said, “Nothing can duplicate the love showered on our family by the people of Israel… We have no regrets that Max made the choice to enlist in the IDF. Max was a Golani, a trained, expert sharpshooter and was determined to fulfill his service. On the way, Max found his inner peace.”
‘We are all Golani forever’
Trading her large, black brimmed hat for Max’s Golani cap, Evie stated the family had made a commitment to helping IDF soldiers in any way they can. “We are all Golani forever,” she said.
Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel brought the evening full circle, noting that he was one of the team that had to deliver the terrible news of Max’s death to the Steinberg family.
He said he hoped the family would find comfort in Max’s death.
“Our children sleep safer at night,” Siegel said, “because Max chose — in the words of his beloved Bob Marley, to ‘get up stand up’ — for the right of the Jewish people to be a free people, free from fear, free from rockets, free from tunnels, living safely in the land of Israel.
“Max found himself in Israel and Israel found itself in Max. The 35,000 people who showed up to Max’s funeral [are proof] that you may be called a lone soldier but you are never alone.”