Two American Communities Deal With Loss of Native Sons

As reports spread that Sean Carmelli, 21, and Max Steinberg, 24, Hy”d, both American citizens, were among the soldiers killed in Gaza, their families and communities struggled to deal with the heartbreaking news.

“We are holding strong because Hashem gives us koach, but it’s very hard,” said Rabbi Asher Hecht, co-director of Chabad of Rio Grande Valley, Texas, about Carmelli. “He was a gem. It’s so sad for everybody.”

Carmelli grew up in the tight-knit community of South Padre Island, Texas.   He chose to spend the few months off that he had between high school and the army in Yeshivas Aish HaTorah.

Rabbi Hecht reminisced about how proud Carmelli was to learn in the yeshivah. “We have no day school in South Padre Island. He felt that this opportunity to study Torah in a formal setting really completed his ability to live as a Jew.”

“He was like a son to all of us,” said Rabbi Yonatan Simony of Congregation Shuva Israel of South Padre Island. “We are a very small community of Israelis who came here to open businesses. We all live together. The children all grew up together. Everybody is in a very emotional state.”

“We brought in a psychologist to speak to the children in our day camp today [Monday],” said Rabbi Simony. “Two people from the community flew with the parents to Eretz Yisrael and are staying with them for the whole shivah.”

Mr. and Mrs. Alon Carmelli were among the founders of the South Padre  Island community, whose shul is named in honor of Sean’s grandfather. Rabbi Simony told us that it will now be re-dedicated in both of their memories, together with a new sefer Torah that the community has already decided to write.

Rabbi Simony was very emotional when discussing young Carmelli. “When they take, they take the best. He was so gentle.  Everybody liked him. When his father would speak about him, you could see a spark in his eyes.”

Max Steinberg, Hy”d, of Woodland Hills, California, had emigrated to Eretz Yisrael six months after visiting on a Birthright trip, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. “I never thought I would have to bury my child,” said his mother, Evelyn Steinberg. “He was never afraid. He will never be forgotten.”

“I think that there is a deep sadness, on the other hand there is great pride,” said Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of the Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “There is a community-wide service planned for some time in the next few days.”

“Such a loss really hits home,” said Woodland Hills resident Alan Shapiro.  “Also, we just got word that the son of somebody from our shul lost an eye while fighting in Gaza. It all seems terribly close to us.”

“The community has come together with tremendous achdus,” Amitai Gluska, also of Woodland Hills, told Hamodia. “This is the greatness of the Jewish people.”