Fallen Israeli soldier from L.A. was passionate, committed

Birthright trip taken by fallen Israeli soldier from L.A. changed his life

An American-born Israeli soldier who was killed in Gaza over the weekend died for a cause he was passionate about and committed to after a birthright trip to Israel, a Jewish Federation official said Monday.

Max Steinberg, who grew up in Woodland Hills and attended El Camino Real High School, went on a birthright trip in 2012 with his brother and sister, who are also in their 20s, said Jay Sanderson, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

A birthright trip is generally one in which Jewish young adults travel throughout Israel, exploring sites of historical, cultural and religious significance. The trip aims to strengthen participants' identities as Jews, connect them with the land and reinforce the solidarity of the Jewish people.

The trip "changed the way [Steinberg] felt about Israel in such a powerful way that it changed his life," said Sanderson, who spent time with Steinberg's family Sunday. 

Shortly after his trip, Steinberg moved to Israel, learned Hebrew and joined the Israeli Defense Forces, Sanderson said. He went on to join an elite unit, the Golani Brigade, and become a sniper.

"His death is a tragic reminder that sometimes the things we are most committed to, that we fight the hardest for, cause pain and suffering," Sanderson said. 

Steinberg's family left Monday for Israel, where he will be buried. A memorial service will be held in Los Angeles in the near future, depending on when the funeral takes place.

It was unclear exactly how Steinberg died, but the Israeli military announced Sunday that 13 members of the Golani Brigade were killed by militants last weekend in the northern Gaza Strip.

At least 100 militants have been killed since Thursday, when Israel began the ground phase of a military offensive that is now in its 13th day, Israeli reports said. The total Palestinian death toll in the two-week crisis has topped 500. A total of 25 Israeli soldiers have been reported killed in the campaign.

For breaking news in Los Angeles and the Southland, follow @Caitlin__Owens, or email her at caitlin.owens@latimes.com.

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