After Staff Sgt. Max Steinberg came to Israel from Los Angeles to enlist in the IDF, he was "adopted" as a lone soldier by the Pesin family of Be'er Sheva.
The close bond they formed has lasted beyond his death in the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, and his "little sister" Sharona, now an officer in the IDF herself, will never forget the immense impact Max had on her life.
Steinberg was drafted into the Golani combat brigade after much insistence on his part, and was soon embraced by the Pesin family, where he would stay during weekends and holidays.
“We used to have long talks,” says Sharona, who was just 16 when he fell in battle.
“He used to share with me everything that was going on and we would talk for hours.”
Max, 24, was killed during the battle of Shuja’iyya, when Hamas fighters attacked the armored personnel carrier transporting him and seven other soldiers.
More than 30,000 people turned out to pay their respects to a soldier they had never met when Max was laid to rest at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem.
“Max was stubborn and determined,” says Sharona. “He insisted on enlisting in Golani. We bonded just like siblings, and a deep connection was also formed with his parents overseas. When he died it was a disaster, I felt like my world just collapsed on me.”
To honor Max for this year's Memorial Day, Sharona decided to hold her own, small ceremony at his grave with his parents in America, Evie and Stuart Steinberg, joining remotely.
Sharona and Max’ parents told stories about him and shared their loss together.
“I think about him every day,” says Sharona. “He taught me so much in our few years together. He taught me about friendship and loving life.”
Max’s father will also attend a virtual remembrance ceremony organized by the Masa organization.
“It is heartening to hear about the close bonds Israeli families form with their soldiers from the Diaspora,” says Masa Chairman Ofer Gutman.
“Max Steinberg’s tragic death did not tear the bond he shared with his adoptive family, it only made it stronger,” says Gutman. "This is one of our goals - to strengthen the connection between those in the Diaspora and Israel.”