There’s a photograph of 21-year-old Sean Carmeli, standing tall in front of a military vehicle, smiling. Black helmet, green vest, mustard yellow cargo pants, combat boots. And a rifle strapped across his body.
The year before, he had volunteered to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), eagerly posting on his Facebook page, “Can’t believe I’m joining the army in 7 hours. Good bye freedom see u in 3 years.”
So had 24-year-old Max Steinberg who, after a birthright trip to Israel with his two younger siblings in 2012, decided Israel is where he belonged. Both young men were American citizens.
On Sunday, Sgt. Carmeli and Steinberg, a sharpshooter, were among 13 Israeli soldiers and 65 Palestinians killed in battle in Gaza City, according to local news reports.
“Sean Carmeli is a hero of the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Asher Hecht, who is a family friend. He added: “He gave his life to protect the survival of the Jewish people.”
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Carmeli, known in Hebrew as Nissim, was born to Israeli parents, Alon and Dalya Carmeli, who moved to the United States 20 years ago, according to Algemeiner, a Jewish newspaper based in Brooklyn. He had two older sisters, Gal and Or. The family was part of a small community of Israelis that run beach stores and souvenir shops on South Padre Island in Texas, where he was from.
“The whole community feels like they lost their own son,” Rabbi Yonatan Simony, the family’s rabbi, told the Algemeiner on Sunday.
Steinberg grew up in Southern California and graduated from El Camino Real High School in 2008, according to his Facebook page. He studied at Pierce College before taking off for Israel in 2012.
Only a few months after exploring his heritage during his birthright trip to Israel, Steinberg went back to become an Israel Defense Forces soldier, his father, Stuart Steinberg, told the Associated Press.
“He was completely dedicated and committed to serving the country of Israel. He was focused, he was clear in what the mission was, and he was dedicated to the work he needed to be doing,” he said.
The 5-foot-3 Steinberg earned nicknames such as “Mighty Max” and “Little Dynamo,” while serving in Israel, according to the Los Angeles-based Jewish Journal.
The Jewish Journal’s Jared Sichel reported:
A sharpshooter, his family said he was likely on the verge of being promoted to the rank of sergeant. His desire to be in a combat unit, his parents said, was so strong that he would rather have sat in a jail cell than work a military desk job.
“I’m not here by requirement, I’m here by volunteering and I have a purpose,” Max’s father remembers him saying.
According to news reports, Carmeli’s family has flown to Israel to bury him. Steinberg’s family will do the same on Monday.
Before Steinberg went into Gaza with Golani Brigade on Sunday, the Jewish Journal reported, he gave his father one last instruction: “Tell my mom I love her.”