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US 'Lone Soldiers' Among Israel Casualties

  • VOA News

Israeli soldiers attend funeral of Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli, a dual American-Israeli citizen, at the military cemetery in Haifa, July 21, 2014.

Israeli soldiers attend funeral of Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli, a dual American-Israeli citizen, at the military cemetery in Haifa, July 21, 2014.

Among Israel's casualties in the Gaza Strip this week: two soldiers born and raised in the United States.

The two men, 24-year-old Max Steinberg of California and 21-year-old Nissim Sean Carmeli from Texas, were so-called "lone soldiers," members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) who do not have family in Israel to support them.

In a country where military service is mandatory for most citizens, those who join voluntarily stand out from the crowd.

The Lone Soldier Center, an Israeli non-profit that provides a support system for such fighters, says there are more than 5,700 lone soldiers serving in the IDF.

The center says nearly half are Jews who come from around the world to join the IDF, while another 50 percent are Israeli orphans or Israelis from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Others are Israelis shunned by their ultra-Orthodox families and communities for going into the army.

Many lone soldiers who come from abroad describe feeling a connection to the country of their roots and view serving Israel as a calling. More foreign lone soldiers come from the United States than any other country.

Southern California native Max Steinberg joined the Israel Defense Forces just six months after visiting Israel for the first time with the popular youth program known as Birthright in 2012. Steinberg's father said his son was "completely dedicated and committed" to serving Israel and was "clear in what the mission was."

Steinberg and fellow American Sean Carmeli were among 13 Israeli soldiers and dozens of Palestinians who died Sunday during the first major ground battle in Gaza in two weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Both were dual American-Israeli citizens and members of the elite Golani Brigade.

Carmeli, who grew up in Texas, was born to Israeli parents and moved to Israel with his family when he was a teenager. His parents returned to Texas for work, and Carmeli could have gone back with them and sought the deferment of military service that is available to children born abroad to Israeli parents, but he chose instead to stay and enlist.

As many as 20,000 people attended Carmeli's funeral in the northern Israeli port town of Haifa, after his favorite football (soccer) team posted a call on Facebook for Israelis to go, so he would not be alone.

Some information for this report comes from AP.

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