Max Donald Steinberg was born on November 27, 1989, in Tarzana, California in the U.S.A. He displayed his strength just hours after he was born, by lifting his head, opening his eyes and looking straight at me. I was shocked, as I had always been under the impression that a newborn baby could not lift his head up high. This was proven to not be true. This was just the beginning of how strong our son would truly become. He was born to become a Golanchik.
Even as a very young child, Max was always headstrong. We loved that about him, but it often got him into trouble, as he never liked to accept “no” for an answer. I remember a time where Max did not get his way, he proceeded to throw about a 2 hour tantrum. He wore us out, of course, once he was finished expressing his feelings, he was his happy go lucky self. This was always characteristic of Max. He could get upset, but seconds later, all was forgotten. He did not hold grudges.
Max was a born salesman, especially to his Paternal Grandfather Sandy Steinberg. (who died a couple of months before Max’s Bar Mitzvah) Max had him wrapped around his finger. He brought such joy to his grandfather. Max’s birth was such a blessing, as his grandfather lost his wife, Donna, to cancer just 6 weeks before Max was born. Max was his first grandchild, and gave him a reason to live. He adored his grandson.
Max was especially small for his age, but this never stopped him from anything, on the contrary, I felt that it made him go the extra mile. He had to prove himself, and he did with flying colors. Kids were often cruel as they can be, and he was often ridiculed because of his size, but he did not care, at least he did not show it. I imagine that it had to have hurt him deep inside but he would not let those who were cruel win.
He was loved by all of his teachers, many expressed that he had always been one of their personal favorites. He attended Temple Solael Preschool in Woodland Hills, CA. He at the age of 4, already showed leadership skills. He often was selected as the narrator for the class’ little plays and presentations. He had the cutest raspy voice. I will never forget his teacher “Miss Fay” telling me that she is sure that one day, Max would accomplish greatness, and that she would be able to say. “I was Max’s pre school teacher”. Boy was she proven right.
He, and his younger siblings, Jake and Paige attended Kindergarten through 5th grade at Woodlake Elementary School in Woodland Hills. Max was quite intelligent and was placed in the “gifted” program. Classes for kids who were more advanced academically. He excelled in Math. In 4th grade, Max was one of the kids that represented his school for a Math Competition.
In the 5th Grade, Max was chosen by the school to be the MC at an assembly for the organization D.A.R.E. It is an anti drug program. There were a few police officers in attendance, which Max thought was pretty cool. I will never forget that day. Besides being very proud, I had to smile at the fact that Max had to stand on a crate so that he would be able to reach the microphone. He didn’t care. He never really cared about what people would say about him.
One of Max’s greatest strengths was his how athletic he was. He loved playing soccer and baseball, and began at a very young age, playing for many, many years. He was always the one to watch. I say this not because he is my son, but by the fact that all of the other parents and coaches always commenting on how good he was and how they loved watching him. They spoke so fondly of Max.
He was so tiny, but played like Goliath. I loved watching him play soccer. He ran as quick as lightning, his long blonde hair flowing in the wind, by far, some of my fondest memories. He was FEARLESS. He did not care how large someone was. If they had the ball, he was going to block that kick or do whatever it took to take that ball away. He put 150% into playing. He was very competitive.
He also excelled when he played baseball. Because he was so small in stature, he had such a small strike zone, which often led him to be walked, which the opposing teams did not like. They knew that once Max was on base, he was sure to score a run. He always had great instincts, was quick on his feet, stealing bases, and more often than not, he successfully slid into home plate. I will never forget the time when Max decided to steal home, he was so determined to make it to home base that he became airborne, reaching for it with his fingers, and of course he made it. He always amazed me. Always a risk taker.
When Max reached middle school age, he still continued to be involved in sports and did very well academically. He loved science and ended up, along with his friend, Matt Grossman, representing Hale Middle School at a Science Competition at Cal Tech, which is also in the Los Angeles area. They were even written up in the newspaper.
If I had to say what was most important to Max, I would have to say hands down, it was the love he had for his family and friends. He was always a friend to all. He was loved by so many. I could not go to the market, a mall, restaurant etc. where Max did not know someone. I would say, “Who is that”? he would say “Oh this kid in my class” or it was so and so’s Mom, or a teacher, or this guy that worked at Subway. He was often teacher’s pet, or worst nightmare, LOL. He was also the favorite of some of his friend’s parents. They always told me how sweet and well mannered he always was, and how smart he was. Max was always well mannered, but he was also very tough. He was quite stubborn and always had to have the last word. This is where he would get himself into trouble, at home and sometimes at school.
Max attended El Camino Real High School, in Woodland Hills, CA. He graduated high school with honors, and continued on to Pierce Community College, also in Woodland Hills. He attended a couple of years but found that he was not really all that interested in college at that time. He worked at different jobs, but really was not sure what he wanted to do “when he grew up”. He was a people person, and had more of an entrepreneur type of personality. I think he could sell ice to the Eskimos.
He loved to spend time with his friends, He loved nature and the outdoors. He loved Northern California. He especially loved to hike, snowboard, spend time at the beach, and listen to music with his friends, Bob Marley being one of his all time favorites. Max always had this big notorious smile, for which he became known, up until the day he died. Max always said. “Everything’s going to be all right”. A favorite quote from Max’s beloved Bob Marley.
As Max reached his early twenties, he really was not sure of what he wanted to pursue in life. In 2012, his younger siblings, Jake and Paige discussed going on a Taglit/Birthright trip. They had heard from so many people and friends that it was a trip of a lifetime, they had not heard one negative comment about it, and, it was free! Every Jewish young adult between the ages of 17 and 26 years of age were entitled to a 10 day trip throughout Israel.
Jake and Paige were really the ones to inspire Max to join them. They got the wheels moving. Max thought, “Why not”? It’s free, and a chance to go on an adventure to see a new part of the world, and to spend time with my little brother and sister. He was in for the ride.
We were thrilled for the opportunity that the Jewish Community offers to young Jewish adults and so happy to see our 3 children travel together. What a great bonding experience for them. Max and his siblings first flew to New York to meet up with their group. The kids called us from NY to let us know that they loved the group they were with, and they had already started the bonding process amongst themselves and the new group of friends they had met, some of which would become lifelong friends.
Max and his siblings had the time of their lives. I knew this due to all the texts and pictures that were sent to Stuart and I. I was envious. We had never been to Israel and we put it on our bucket list. Who knew that we would travel to Israel 4 times with in a year.
Max fell in love with the land of Israel and it’s people. He loved how casual it was, as that was Max. He could care less about material things. If he could live in jeans, shorts and t-shirts, he was a happy camper. He loved the land. Israel had mountains, beaches and deserts. He really connected. Every picture I saw of him was with that infamous smile.
The kids really bonded with their tour guide and counselors. There were also a few IDF soldiers on their trip that Max especially bonded with. I remember Max calling me to say that he could not believe what the people of Israel lived with on a daily basis. He was referring to the fact that they are surrounded by so many people and countries that seek the destruction of the Jewish people. One of the places that the kids and their group went to see was Mt. Herzl, a Military Cemetery. They learned the stories of some of the soldiers. It has such an impact on Max. There was a lone soldier, Michael Levine, who was a lone soldier in the IDF, who lost his life defending Israel and another soldier, Rory Klein, who sacrificed his life for his commander by jumping on a grenade. One of the IDF soldiers, Mattan Hallack, who was with Max’s group shared with me that Max stood in front of the later’s grave and declared, “That’s going to be me, but I’m going to live”.
Max and his siblings continued to have an incredible time, and when the 10 days were over, they asked to extend their trip, they did not want to leave Israel. Unfortunately, Max’s brother, Jake, had to leave. He went straight to Greece for a study abroad class through UCLA, where he has since graduated.
Max called and let me know that he was going to move to Israel and that he was going to join the IDF. To be honest, I did not really believe him. I thought that he was being impulsive, which he often was. It was kind of one of those, “Ok honey, that’s great, we’ll talk about it when you get home. Boy was I wrong. He was dead serious. His trip to Israel was the turning point in his life.
His first time to Israel was at the end of June 2012. Max and Paige returned home the end of July, 2012, and by September 2012, Max, by himself boarded a plane, moved to Israel to join the IDF. Max felt that he could not live in Israel if he did not serve. It would just not be right. It is a citizen’s army, EVERYONE must serve. It was his obligation. He would have it no other way.
One of his best friends, Fred Pesin, at home had a cousin, Michael Pesin, that lived in Beer Sheva, along with his father, sister and Grandmother. Max met Michael once in the states. When Max made his decision to join the army, Fred called Michael to say that Max was moving to Israel.
The Pesin Family opened their arms and home to Max, making him a part of their family, which was so comforting to us. Typical Israel. They are now dear friends of ours. Actually they are now our family. Max knew absolutely no Hebrew. Actually, foreign languages were his worst subject in school. Micheal’s sister, Sharona, tried to help him. She also said he was the worst!
Max enlisted in December of 2012. There was actually a war going on in Gaza before Max joined the IDF. I remember he would Skype with me as rockets were being fired from Gaza. He would tell me to hold on as he would have to go to the stairwell in the apartment when the sirens would go off. I thought to myself, “How could I let this kid move to Israel?” It was what he wanted. We supported him 100%.
Max was a lone soldier. He had absolutely no family in Israel. The only friends he had were his new friends, The Pesins and the couple of friends, Matan and Deanna who were the IDF soldiers that he had met from his Taglit/Birthright group. I don’t think I could live in a country where I really did not know anyone, and did not speak the language.
From day one, Max knew that he wanted to be a combat soldier. He only wanted to serve in the elite Golani 13 Brigade. That was the ONLY place he would serve, and he told the powers that be just that. Because of his poor Hebrew skills, he would not be able to serve in Golani. They asked him what else he wanted to do. He said “Nothing”. They asked him again, and by the 3rd time he told them, “Ask me something else”! It Golani 13 or nothing. Send me home or send me to jail. I am not going to be a “Jobnik”.
Well, he was sent home. He didn’t study any Hebrew, he was too busy spending time with his friends. He was such a brat. He knew “Army Hebrew”, and that was good enough for him. He actually, so I’m told, knew more Hebrew than he would admit.
Max became a soldier in the elite Golani 13 Brigade, just as he set out to do from day one. There wasn’t anything that would stand in his way to become a Golanchik. He would do whatever it took. He endured the grueling training, being away from his family. He once again excelled.
Once again he was one of the smallest in stature, but he far made up for it by being determined to be the best. I was told by his commanders and fellow soldiers that he was the best at everything. He carried the heaviest loads when no one else wanted to, he ran the fastest, and always wanted to be in front carrying the stretcher. The commanders would tell me that they would always would select him to do tasks or take him with them when they wanted something done because he never complained, and happily did everything. He had such a positive attitude.
On the weekends when everyone would look forward to going home to a home cooked meal, have their laundry done, get hugs from mom and dad etc., Max would forfeit his weekend time to others because he did not really have anyone to go home to. He was happy playing Play Station, doing his laundry, catching up on sleep and calling me. He would sometimes call me 3 times a day. Sometimes there really was not much to talk about, we just wanted to hear each there’s voice. We just wanted to connect. He wanted his friends to be with their families.
Max became very good at shooting. In fact, he excelled. He would take pictures of the board that was posted on base to show the rankings. He was often #1. He loved it. He was so proud. We were too. He loved his gun. During our many phone calls I would ask him what he was doing.
He was either cleaning his boots or cleaning his gun. I’d say, “Max, you are ALWAYS cleaning your gun. He’d say, “Mom, there is a lot of sand here, do you want it to jam when I really need it?!”
He found that he was proficient at shooting. He became a sharp shooter. A good one. He loved it. He was so happy when he received a particular scope for his gun. Not everyone had one. I think it made him feel quite special. If he did not do as well as he wanted out on the shooting range, he would tell me and become frustrated. He wanted to be perfect. I’m told he just about was. We met a wonderful man, Mikey Hartman, who started the shooting school for the IDF many years ago. When Max passed, he came to see us while we were sitting Shiva at our hotel. He presented us with his personal sharp shooter pin. It really meant a lot to us. We put it with Max’s other pins and stripes that were presented us from Golani. Max would be SO proud and honored to receive this for sure. Mikey Hartman came out to Los Angeles this past year. (2015) He came to visit us. We showed him some of Max’s achievements etc. we showed him one of max’s targets from one of his shooting range exercises. He looked at it, smiled and let us know that he was not just good, he was excellent, amazing. He said that what we showed him could be achieved by about 1 in 500,000. Not sure about that, but he said that at max’s age, he was not as good as Max. Boy would Max loved to have heard that!
What we heard so often and still to this day is what a positive impact that our beloved Max had on so many. He brought the best out of everyone. Max was 22 yrs. old when he joined the IDF, which made him one of the old soldiers. Many of these boys and girls were just out of high school. It wasn’t always easy for him to take orders from a 19 year old. He had to learn. But to many, he was like a big brother. When the going got tough, he would encourage them, telling them that they accomplish whatever was asked of them. He’d root them on, and reassure them that everything was going to be all right.
Max was known for his generosity. Aside from sacrificing his weekends for others, he would spend the little money that he had on others. Whether it was buying candy, cigarettes, snacks etc., he would always share. This is what I am told. I do know for a fact that Max would often get very cold on the nights that he had guard duty, or when they were training at night. Max hated being cold. It really affected him. He would buy hand and foot warmers. He would often share his or buy them for his fellow soldiers. This was Max, always thinking about his friends and others.
Our family was going to go to Israel in June of 2014, but decided that we would take a family vacation after Max finished serving in the IDF. It would have been Stuart and I’s first time to Israel. We will never know if Max would have decided to serve in the IDF longer, but as of April 2014, Max would have been released from the army in November of 2014. He had already planned to celebrate his 25th Birthday in the U.S.
As it was, we probably would not have been able to see Max in June of 2014, things were heating up in Israel. Then there was that horrific incident where the 3 Israelis were kidnapped and murdered. I remember Max and I texting a lot during this period of time. I was concerned for Max, but I truly did not think that Israel was going to war, but if they were, there was a good chance that Max would be going in.
Feeling helpless, I was glued to the news. Things were going from bad to worse. I was now becoming concerned, now I was scared. I savored every phone call that I received from Max. I knew only what I was hearing on the news here in the states. Max would update me. “We are going in”, “We are not going in”. This went on for awhile. Finally the day came, they WERE going in.
We said our “I love you’s” and “call me as soon as you can, no matter what hour”. They went in. There was an accident. The APC that Max was in got hit by another IDF APC. Some of the soldiers were injured, including Max. Some broke bones, and were pulled from the mission. Max was not severely injured and of course insisted on going back in. I will never know if he had to, but knowing my son, he would because that was who he was. Nothing would stop him from completing a mission, no matter what it entailed.
Before he went in the second time I asked him if he was scared. Without hesitating he replied, “No, I’m not scared for me at all, but I’m really scared for you”. I held back my tears, for I did not want him to know I was crying. I told him to please not be a hero, knowing fully well that he would if he felt it was necessary. I was told that one of his last statements to another soldier was “I love you brother, and I would take a bullet for you”.
On July 20, 2014 our beloved son and brother, Sgt.Max Steinberg, was killed in action, along with many of his fellow brothers, sacrificing his life for the land and people of Israel that he grew to love. Mission accomplished.
Max was always my hero, but now he a hero to millions of people in Israel, and to Jews throughout the world.
It wasn’t until Max died that we learned what an impact Max had on so many, and that he continues to have on many others. I have met several of these individuals in person, and hear from many, many others be it by letter, email, social media etc… The pain of losing our son and brother will never, ever go away. I think and ache for him 24/7, but I take comfort in knowing that he is a hero and role model for others. He made a difference.