Wednesday, July 23, 2014
IDF lone soldier Max Steinberg’s funeral, shiva in Jerusalem draw 30,000 — including John Kerry
Story has been updated to include additional information.
The mother, father, sister and brother of 24-year-old Woodland Hills native and fallen IDF soldier Max Steinberg, though heartbroken and jet-lagged, said they were warmed by the incredible turnout at his funeral on Mt. Herzl today.
"I probably couldn't stand here and talk without breaking down, without... all this love and all these people," Steinberg's mom, Evie, said into a semicircle of news mics after the Jerusalem ceremony. "It's so overwhelming and so incredible."
Israeli media estimates put funeral attendance between 20,000 and 35,000 people. It was hard to tell for sure: Heads in army caps andkippas stretched as far as anyone could see, back up into the hills of the cemetery. It was at this very site, on a Birthright trip in 2012, that Steinberg noticed the grave of American lone soldier Michael Levin and began considering a career in the IDF.
Steinberg was one of seven members of the IDF's elite Golani brigade killed last weekend when their tank ran over an explosive that had been planted in the streets of Shujaya, in east Gaza City. It was July 20, the third night of Israel's current ground operation to wipe out terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza strip, and the deadliest night of the conflict for both sides: About 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed.
This morning, around 11:30 a.m., Steinberg's coffin was silently lowered into the ground at Mt. Herzl and covered in soil by his fellow Golani soldiers. Each of Steinberg's family members then said their final words to him, fighting back tears.
"As I look around right now, I am in awe," said his sister Paige, 20. "I never thought I'd be here with so many people who understand how brave you are."
The family's goodbyes were followed by emotional speeches from U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Israeli Knesset (parliament) member Dov Lipman and more.
Afterward, the Steinbergs' shiva, or Jewish mourning tent — actually a conference room at Jerusalem's Crowne Plaza Hotel — was equally well-attended, and star-studded.
First, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (pictured below), currently on a Middle East tour to encourage a cease fire between Gaza and Israel, stopped by the hotel shiva to pay his respects to the Steinberg family. He immeditaly expressed his awe at the lengths their eldest son had gone to for Israel: "It's just a huge statement about a young guy finding a place that he was so passionate about, and giving his all, putting himself on the line," he said. "It's an amazing story."
Kerry entered and exited the room swiftly, surrounded by men in black and refusing to take any questions from press. But he spent a significant chunk of time — considering his tight and urgent schedule — chatting with Evie and Stuart about their son, and with Paige and Jake about their relationship with their brother and their own plans in life.
"How's your day?" Kerry asked as he sat down. "How's your day?" Evie asked back. "My day's going better than yours," he said.
"I am so honored to be here. I am in awe of your son, truly," Kerry told the family. "And I think you know, I served in the military, and I have great respect for anybody who... especially puts themself willingly in harm's way. And as an American, we're so proud of the affection that he felt, just the love he felt, and the roots he found in this country."
(Earlier in the day, Kerry had Tweeted: "Deaths of IDF/US citizens Max Steinberg & Sean Carmeli in Gaza heartbreaking reminder of close bonds w/ Israel.")
U.S. ambassador to Israel Shapiro (pictured above, right), who spoke at the funeral and accompanied Kerry to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, took that sentiment a step further. "There's no greater manifestion of the bond between our countries than an American citizen putting himself in harm's way to defend Israel," he said at the shiva.
Additional updates to come.