(TheBlaze/AP) — Two Americans fighting for the Israel Defense Forces — Max Steinberg, 24, and Nissim Sean Carmeli, 21 — were killed in battle in the Gaza Strip.
Stuart Steinberg confirmed the death of his son Max Steinberg, 24, to The Associated Press on Sunday. Steinberg, whose family lives in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, was a sharpshooter for the Golani Brigade. He was one of 13 Israeli soldiers and 65 Palestinians killed in fighting Sunday during the first major ground battle in two weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Steinberg was living in Beersheba, Israel. He attended Pierce College and El Camino Real High School in Southern California.
He visited Israel for the first time on a Birthright Israel trip with his younger brother and sister in June 2012, his father said. When he returned, he made an announcement to his parents that he was planning to return and join the IDF, Steinberg said. He made good on that promise less than six months later, making the move in December.
"He went back," 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."
On Sunday morning, the Steinbergs were visited by representatives from the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. They broke the news of Max Steinberg's death.
Stuart Steinberg last spoke to his son at 4 a.m. Saturday California time, hours before his death. Max Steinberg called his father to tell him that his group had been injured when two of their tanks collided. They had to return to Israel for treatment at the hospital. Some soldiers had broken bones, and Max Steinberg had sprained his back, his father said.
"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.
Steinberg said the family is leaving on Monday for Israel, where their son will be buried. On Steinberg's Facebook page, hundreds of people liked a profile photo that appeared to be a selfie of him in uniform, armed, with his helmet on. Dozens gave their condolences.
Jay Sanderson, who heads The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said in an email message to the community that "our thoughts are with his family and our community is committed to support them in any way they need - and to honor Max's memory."
Earlier Sunday, the IDF said in a statement that Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli, 21, was killed in combat in the Gaza Strip. Carmeli was from South Padre Island, Texas, said Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Southwest Maya Kadosh. She said Carmeli moved to Israel four years ago and added that the consulate helped his family get a flight there Sunday.
Rabbi Asher Hecht of Chabad of the Rio Grande Valley, who is a longtime family friend, said Carmeli joined the Israeli army after finishing high school in Israel and was in the Golani Brigade. The IDF statement said Carmeli was from Ra'anana, Israel.
"He had great energy, yet had a kind and gentle soul," Hecht said. "It's been a very tough day for us," he added. "We lost a gem."
Carmeli was the youngest of three and has two sisters who currently live in Israel. He was "loved by his parents infinitely," Hecht said.
The Jewish Federations of North America said in a statement that its "deepest sympathies" were with the families of 18 Israeli soldiers killed over the last two days. "Along with all of Israel, and the entire Jewish People, we mourn their loss as if they were our own," the statement said.
On Sunday night, the U.S. State Department confirmed the deaths of Steinberg and Carmeli.
Associated Press writer Ramit Plushnick-Masti contributed to this report from Houston. Rankin reported from Chicago.