A memorial service for fallen Lone Soldier Max Steinberg at the Saban Theatre on Aug. 12 painted the area native as both a normal young adult and a hero, one who loved having fun, formed easy connections with others and whose quest to find himself took him to the Jewish homeland.
The event that attracted about 850 people reinforced how Steinberg — who died July 20 at the age of 24 while fighting in Israel’s war with Gaza — has become an icon for a Diaspora Jewish community that often struggles with finding ways to express its love for Israel.
More than anything, though, it was a time for remembering.
“We don’t know Max the hero. We only know Max the beautiful baby, the bumblebee and devil that went trick-or-treating, the student, the bar mitzvah, the actor, the athlete, the brother, the friend,” said his father Stuart Steinberg, standing alongside his wife and Max’s mother, Evie Steinberg.
“We only know the Max we were proud to call our son, the love of our life, the young boy that traveled to Israel to become a brave soldier and became a man.”
Steinberg’s parents were among those who spoke at the nearly three-hour event, which was funded by philanthropist Haim Saban. It featured cantorial singing, speeches from friends and family and words from leaders of the Los Angeles Jewish community.
And while this was not the first event in the Los Angeles community to honor Steinberg’s memory, it was the largest and drew from a wide cross-section of the community.
Max's parents, Stuart and Evie Steinberg, joined by evening master of ceremonies Rabbi David Baron.
Evie Steinberg, wearing a black dress and a black wide-brim hat, fought back tears as she told the crowd about the life her son led over the course of 24 years.
Steinberg served as a sharpshooter and staff sergeant in the Israel Defense Forces’ elite Golani Brigade. He grew up in the San Fernando Valley and moved to Israel in 2012 after embarking on a Birthright trip that, by all accounts, changed his life.
He stood at 5-foot-3 and barely spoke Hebrew, but that did not stop him from wanting to serve in the army and, ultimately, from becoming a leader in his unit, according to Evie Steinberg, who, at the end of her remarks, exchanged her hat for a Golani Brigade baseball cap.
His conviction to be a soldier was not surprising. Once he made up his mind to do something, there was little one could do to convince him otherwise, according to his family.
“He knew what he wanted, what he believed in and what he deserved,” said Steinberg’s sister, Paige.
“Max wanted to absorb everything that life could give him,” Steinberg’s 22-year-old brother, Jake, said.
A group of Steinberg’s friends also appeared at the Beverly Hills venue to offer their remembrances.
Rabbi David Baron of Temple of the Arts, which holds its services at the Saban Theatre, served as master of ceremonies. At one point he asked all of the Lone Soldiers in the crowd — there were dozens —to stand, along with their families. As they rose, so too did the crowd, applauding loudly in thanks for what they’ve contributed to the Jewish homeland.
Baron spoke of the importance of the United States-Israel relationship.
“We commit tonight to ... do our part in the United States to make sure that our nation never wavers one iota from its complete support for Israel,” he said.
The Saban stage’s decorations included Israeli and American flags and a large green tree, the symbol of the Golani Brigade. A video screen hung from the ceiling, allowing Saban himself to deliver a video message from Israel.
Max Steinberg's family, including his brother, Jake, his sister, Paige, his father, Stuart, and his mother, Evie, sat in the front row.
A video montage of Steinberg’s life played from this screen, accompanied by Rabbi Naomi Levy and the group of musicians who comprise her Nashuva Band performing music by Bob Marley, Steinberg’s favorite musician.
David Suissa, president of the Jewish Journal, another sponsor of the event, spoke briefly.
“We’re here to make loss matter. We’re here to give meaning to our pain, to give meaning to our community, to give meaning to Max Steinberg’s life,” he said.
Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, spoke, and there were performances of spiritual music by cantors Nathan Lam of Stephen S. Wise Temple, Don Gurney of Wilshire Boulevard Temple and Marcus Feldman of Sinai Temple.
Rabbi Dov Lipman, an Israeli Knesset member who officiated Steinberg’s funeral in Jerusalem — which drew more than 30,000 mourners — attended the event at the request of the fallen soldier’s family.
“Max did not set out to change the country and a nation,” Lipman said. “He simply chose to do what he thought was right and what spoke to him from the deepest part of the soul, and in the process of doing what he thought was right, that which would make him a better person, he not only defended me, my wife and my children and millions of others, he also succeeded in lifting the spirits of an entire nation.”
The local memorial service underscored the close relationship that has bloomed between the Israeli government and the Steinberg family since the time of Steinberg’s death. Stuart Steinberg called Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel, who was among those who broke the news to the family about his son’s death, a “dear friend.”
“Mr. Siegel and his local team have invested tireless hours offering support and helping us navigate through unfamiliar terrain,” Stuart Steinberg said.
Siegel, for his part, said Max Steinberg and Israel are forever intertwined. He called the Lone Soldier “a native son of Los Angeles who gave his life to defend Israel.”
“Max found himself in Israel, as you’ve heard, and Israel found itself in Max,” said Siegel, who was the evening’s final speaker and whose remarks came as an image of the Israeli flag appeared on the large video screen.
Afterward, Fred Pesin, a friend of Steinberg’s from middle school in Woodland Hills and a speaker at the program, said of the event, “I think it turned out amazingly. This is way better than I ever would have imagined. … Not too many tears — just joy.”