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Israeli soldiers grieve during the funeral of comrade Max Steinberg. / Manahem Kahana, AFP/Getty Images

JERUSALEM - Nearly 30,000 mourners flocked to the funeral Wednesday for American Max Steinberg, who fell in love with Israel and died fighting for its military against Hamas militants this week.

"There were crowds of men and women, religious and secular, ultra-Orthodox, young and old, all are here together for each other, simply amazing and moving," said Meytal Blumenthal, one of the mourners who didn't know Steinberg, 24, of Woodland Hills, Calif. "I came to give encouragement and left encouraged."

Steinberg, who was living in Beersheba, Israel, was one of two American-born "lone soldiers" killed in clashes with Hamas fighters Sunday. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) uses the designation for 6,000 soldiers whose parents do not live in Israel. The military says 1,100 "lone soldiers" are from the USA.

Steinberg grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and attended Pierce College and El Camino Real High School in Southern California. He first visited Israel in June 2012, his father, Stuart Steinberg, said.

When he returned home, Max Steinberg told his parents he planned to join the IDF. He moved to Israel less than six months later.

"He went back," Stuart Steinberg said. "He was completely dedicated and committed to serving the country of Israel. He was focused, he was clear in what the mission was, and he was dedicated to the work he needed to be doing."

Stuart Steinberg said he last spoke to his son Saturday. Max called his father to let him know his group had been injured after a tank collision. They had to return to Israel for medical treatment. "He called me up at 4 a.m. that morning and said he'd be returning to Gaza, back to combat, to be with his friends," Steinberg said.

While all of the funerals have been well attended, the funerals of three "lone soldiers" killed in Gaza - one was originally from France - have been especially poignant.

Postponed until the soldiers' parents and siblings could arrive, the funerals attracted tens of thousands of mourners, the vast majority of them strangers who learned of their deaths from news reports.

Sean Carmeli, 21, of South Padre Island, Texas, was also killed Sunday. He was buried Monday at a funeral attended by nearly 30,000 mourners. The large attendance was in part due to a social-media campaign by Israeli Americans and because Maccabi Haifa, Carmeli's favorite soccer team, called on fans to show their support.

Carmeli, the son of Israeli parents who moved to Texas, settled in Israel at age 15. He attend high school in Israel and was drafted into the military.

Contributing: The Associated Press



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: 30,000 attend funeral for American killed by Hamas

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