I've been reading a lot of articles from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict spectrum about Operation Protective Edge, but the one that shook me the most was Allison Benedikt's post "What Makes an American Kid With Shaky Hebrew Decide He Is Ready to Die for Israel?" The article details Birthright's ability to "inspire" diaspora Jews to connect with the land and state of Israel but then categorizes soldiers like Max Steinberg's deaths as horrible side effects of this inspiration.
This article's main point, that inspiring men and women to become soldiers and make aliyah is somehow a wrongdoing, makes me wonder what exactly people who share the opinion of Ms. Benedikt feel is worth fighting and dying for. Do our individual needs outweigh greater causes or good? Philosophically this is actually a troubling concept, and it makes sense to question these larger issues in a time of war, but to blame Birthright and to trivialize Max and other American Jews who have chosen to serve the Jewish State as "lost souls" is to trivialize their sacrifice as a fault or condition. These soldiers are fighting for an ideal that lies at the heart of this conflict, not just for Israelis but, perhaps, even for Palestinians. They were not taken advantage of by a fun and free trip in college.
Israel is the Jewish home. Jews globally must actively pursue the ability to have a home to go to when the world casts us out. "A free people in our own land" is an ideal Israelis must remember, but also an ideal to ask the world to acknowledge on the path to peaceful sovereignty. Max and other American Jews chose to join the Israeli army not because they were lost souls but because they felt a connection to this global Jewish calling to preserve and protect the Jewish homeland and its people. Israel is their family. Its people were their brothers and sisters. Feeling that connection, they made the ultimate sacrifice.
Any one in any army knows this feeling to be true. Soldiers may protest operations or the actions of their commanders, but they defend bravely the ideals and the people they have come to consider their extended family. Why do we blame them or the moment in their lives that inspired this connection? If anything we should be jealous, honoring that they feel so strongly for each and every soul they call their family. I know I am in awe of this sacrifice, and wish I had the confidence and belief that goes into making such a decision.
I wish I, as an American Jew, could feel that inspired. I hope Max's family and friends find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem speedily and soon. I cry to G-d and ask why death befalls both sides of this conflict. I pray for an end and for peace.
Each and every people deserve to live in the land they call home as long as they do so peacefully with their neighbors. Israel has tried (and I'll be the first to admit, often has failed) to live up to this ideal for both themselves and for the Palestinians that call this land their home too. To share that land and to actively seek a two state solution is the embodiment of the Zionist dream, for we cannot acknowledge our return from diaspora without acknowledging those that called our land home in our absence.
Max, you fought not just for Israel, but to put an end to Hamas, an organization that hinders peace and harmony between to peoples, and your sacrifice will not go unrecognized.
I applaud you for fighting so deeply and for calling each and every Israeli his brother and sister. I applaud Birthright for inspiring this heroism in Max. I don't blame Birthright for his sacrifice; I thank them for helping Max a true inspiration and a shining member of the Am Yisroel (the Nation of Israel).