The two Americans killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip followed in the footsteps of scores of Jews from around the world who have volunteered to fight for Israel.
Israel calls them the lone soldiers: They are men and women in the prime of their lives who have left their parents and often comfortable lives behind in places like Sydney, London, Los Angeles and elsewhere to join the Israel Defense Forces, marching in the desert and taking up arms to defend the Jewish state.
There were about 5,500 lone soldiers serving in the military in 2012, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Groups for families of lone soldiers have recently started in Los Angeles and other cities, providing a support network as the fighting intensifies.
For Jews who left Israel before the age of 15 or who never lived there, their service is voluntary. For many, it is a calling, a way to get back to their roots and unite the world's Jewish population. Some have dual citizenship. Others speak little to no Hebrew and have only recently been to Israel.
Max Steinberg, 24, who grew up in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, joined six months after he visited Israel for the first time on a Birthright Israel trip with his younger brother and sister in June 2012, said Jake Steinberg, who spoke to The Associated Press hours after learning his brother, a sharpshooter in the Golani Brigade, was among 13 Israeli soldiers and scores of Palestinians over the weekend who died during the first major ground battle in two weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas. The Jewish Journal was first to report Steinberg's death.
"He got there and felt a connection to Israel, saw that as a place he could live and be successful, and he went for it," Jake Steinberg said.
Nissim Sean Carmeli, 21, the second American killed, was from South Padre Island, Texas, and he felt that same strong connection to the country he had only moved to four years ago.
"Lone soldiers are a kind of star in Israel," according to the Jewish Journal in a report. "For Israeli kids, army service is a rite of passage. But because it is a choice for the young members of the Diaspora who re-direct their own life paths to protect Israel, those enlistees are given a hero's welcome — and a lifetime of Shabbat dinner invitations from their fellow soldiers, who become their surrogate families."
Thousands of people attended Carmeli's funeral in the northern Israeli port town of Haifa after a Facebook status called for Israelis to come in droves so that the lone soldier would be not be alone at this final resting place. Tearful mourners rested their heads on his coffin, which was draped in an Israeli flag. Before it was lowered into the grave, piles of flowers were set upon the coffin, as mourners cried beside it.
Mike Fishbein, who grew up in Los Angeles, said he felt like he was missing a connection to his Jewish identity in California. He spent a year volunteering and studying in Israel, but that experience only deepened his desire to do more.
"I believe in that country. I believe in the Jewish people and the country's reason to exist, so I thought I can't just go back home to Los Angeles," said Fishbein, who served about two years with the Israel Defense Forces starting in 2009.
After Fishbein enlisted, he spent 30 days learning Hebrew along with more than two dozen others from Panama, South Africa, Australia and other nations. He then went through basic training, which included a 40-mile nighttime march through the desert. He lived for almost four months inside a worn tent from the Vietnam War era.
Israeli troops wondered why he would leave the palm trees and beaches they had seen in movies.
"They didn't understand why a kid from Hollywood was there," he said. "But after you stuck around, they would respect you and understand (that) we're here together to try and protect the same thing."
- Lindsey Stirling reflects on global audience,...
- Boy Scouts' leader says ban on gay adults not...
- Sen. Orrin Hatch calls HBO story on dietary...
- Photo gallery: Atop One World Trade Center,...
- David Letterman leaves late night with thanks...
- Surveillance debate produces unusual...
- Police officer, suspect critically hurt by...
- Clinton: GOP threatening small-business jobs
- Boy Scouts' leader says ban on gay... 158
- Congressional delegation not impressing... 32
- Obama: Climate change deniers endanger... 26
- Sen. Lindsey Graham: 'I'm running' to... 18
- Obama bans some military-style... 16
- Belfast baker guilty of discrimination... 14
- Sen. Orrin Hatch calls HBO story on... 13
- FTC: Family raised $187 million for... 12