When Max Steinberg, a Golani brigade soldier who fell in the line of duty during Operation Protective Edge, was laid to rest, more than 30,000 Israelis came to accompany him on his last journey. The family of the 24-year-old lone soldier, who made aliyah to serve in the IDF, could not believe the overwhelming support they had received. It was a gesture that 21-year-old Paige, Max's little sister, would never forget. Shortly after returning to her home in the US, she came to understand that she had to return to Israel.
"I felt like I wanted to be here," Paige explains.
After the shiva (Jewish seven days of mourning) for Max came to an end, she returned to her home in the States, but after several days realized that she wanted to continue her life in the country her brother had dedicated his life to. She enrolled in the school of Psychology at IDC Herzliya, and moved into an apartment with roommates in the city.
"I live here on my own, but I am surrounded by support and warmth," she says. "I never planned on studying and living in Israel, but I wanted to be as close as possible to my brother. I feel happy here, like I'm following in his footsteps."
Paige visited Israel for the first time in 2011, when she arrived with her brothers as part of the Birthright project. When the journey came to an end, Max decided that he wanted to move to Israel and join the IDF. "Our parents supported his decision," she recalls. And so Max, who had already graduated college, worked hard on improving his Hebrew, and soon joined the army, in which he served as a fighter in the Golani Brigade.
"When the fighting began, we knew that he was among the soldiers that were stationed in Gaza," his sister recalls the moments of fear and anxiety. "When we received the painful message, we were at home in California. Early in the morning, the Israeli consul came and told us about the disaster. When we arrived in Israel for the funeral, it was my parents' first time there. During the ceremony, we felt the support of the people, and it was amazing. We realized that it was one of the biggest funerals ever held in Israel.
"My parents realized the extent of love the country had for Max and they were at peace with their decision to bury him in Israel. Had the disaster not occurred, I would have never been living here; the tragedy triggered the change in my life."
"I check in with Paige in Israel and call her parents every week to wish them Shabbat Shalom," says Tzvika Levy, head of the Kibbutz Movement's Lone Soldiers Program, who accompanied Max in Israel during his service.
"Recently, Max's father sent a personal letter along with gift packages to every lone soldier in the Golani Brigade's 13th Battalion. When the lone soldiers received the package, there wasn't a dry eye in the house."