Sean Carmeli, z’l: Kaddish for a Texan who gave his life in Gaza
By Ben Sales
TEL AVIV (JTA) — The soldiers walk past us, two single-file lines between the gravestones, their blank, sunken faces barely visible in the darkness. The coffin appears, hoisted on their arms and wrapped in an Israeli flag. We follow in its wake.
Within minutes, some 20,000 people have massed around the final resting place of Sean Carmeli, Texas native, IDF soldier, soon to be declared a Hero of Israel.
We stand silent as the rabbi chants verses of psalms begging for mercy. We shrug off official instructions on protocol should a siren sound.
Then a broken, crying, panting voice comes over the loudspeaker. Word by impossible word, Sean’s father is saying Kaddish. We say amen, and it hits home: a 21-year-old boy is dead.
“We all lost a brother today,” Carmeli’s friend, Elior Mizrachi, says in his eulogy. “He was my role model, my best friend.”
Mizrachi exhales. Across the crowd, people begin to sob.
Thirteen soldiers died Sunday, July 20 in a fierce battle in Gaza, but for Americans living in Israel, Carmeli and Los Angeles native Max Steinberg stood out. They were like us, kids who grew up in the U.S. but moved here for a feeling, an ethereal connection. Both were far from their families but, as Raanana Mayor Ze’ev Bielski said in his eulogy of Carmeli, they felt they had “got to the right place.”
Many of the tens of thousands who came to Haifa’s Sde Yehoshua military cemetery on Monday night were spurred on by social media, Israelis calling on each other to attend the funeral of a lone soldier who had little family here. Maccabi Haifa, Carmeli’s favorite soccer team, asked its fans on Facebook to “accompany him on his final road and represent us as one family.”
The eulogies they heard told a story many American Israelis could recognize: Carmeli’s high school principal recounting how he worked especially hard to catch up to his Israeli classmates. Mizrachi recalling how Carmeli would describe his parents in America to his friends in Israel, and his friends in Israel to his parents in America. Carmeli’s brother-in-law telling the crowd about how his house had become Carmeli’s second home, so far from the first.
And then there was the story’s sad ending.
“We miss you so much,” said Carmeli’s brother-in-law. “It will take awhile not to imagine you coming through the door, throwing your bags on the ground.”
So much of Israeli life is about remembering the fallen — the sirens on Yom Hazikaron, the monuments across Israeli cities, the shells of tanks on the road to Jerusalem. But we constantly push it out of our minds, focus on day-to-day life, return to our routines minutes after bomb sirens ring out.
“I always thought we’d grow up parallel to each other forever,” Mizrachi said. “I didn’t know forever would be cut so short.”
By time the honor guard fired the final salute, the crowd was already filing out of the cemetery, back to life in Israel.
Rio Grande Chabad rabbi remembers Sean Carmeli
By Vicki Samuels Levy
Jewish Herald Voice
The Jewish communities of both Lone Star States lost a treasure Sunday, July 20. IDF Sgt. Sean Carmeli, of South Padre Island, Texas, was killed in heavy fighting in a Gaza City neighborhood. Max Steinberg, a Los Angeles native who joined the Israel Defense Forces in 2012, also was killed during the same clashes with Hamas. The two were among 13 in the Golani Brigade who died.
“We lost a gem!” wrote Rabbi Asher Hecht of Sean Carmeli, in an email to the JHV. “We are devastated. The entire community is devastated,” the rabbi of Chabad of the Rio Grande Valley Texas wrote. “Sean’s parents love for him knew no bounds. They were so proud of him.”
Rabbi Hecht spoke to one of Sean’s friends Sunday, who told the rabbi, “He was my older brother, my best friend, my everything. Sean wanted to live, he loved and appreciated life more than anyone. I need Sean now more than ever.”
“I share this sentiments,” wrote Rabbi Hecht, “and know that all who knew him feel the same.
“Our hearts go out to his parents, our dear friends, Alon and Dalya, and their dear daughters, Gal and Or. They lost their only son today. Their only brother. The vacuum left by this tragedy will never be filled. All we can do pray that G-d brings comfort to his family and all who mourn him.
“Sean will never be forgotten. He is a hero of the Jewish people. His legacy will live on in the good deeds, Torah and mitzvot that are done in his righteous memory.”
According to Rabbi Hecht: “Sean was a smart boy, very warm, compassionate and loved by all. He was a proud Jew. Sean attended our Chabad overnight camp, Camp Gan Israel-South Padre Island, from its first summer and all the summers following until he was too old for the program. He was such a great kid and a wonderful example to the other campers. He had a strong love for Judaism and for his fellow Jews. He had great energy, yet had a kind and gentle soul.
“Sean’s parents made the decision to move back to Israel, where he completed high school and went on to join the IDF, where he served with honor and distinction in the Golani Brigade.
“Growing up on South Padre Island, Sean did not have the opportunity to attend a Jewish school, yet just before it was time for him to enter the army, Sean made a decision to spend some time in a yeshiva. On a visit to Israel, my wife and I met up with Sean in the Old City of Jerusalem where he was studying, and he expressed to us just how excited and happy he was to be able to dedicate this important time in his life to study Torah, hoping that it would open his horizons and give him the right perspective before starting his army service and influence his life as a proud Jew.
“Alon and Dalya Carmeli are proud Jews and Israelis — loved by all in their community and beyond. They are supporters of Jewish life and education. They were involved with Camp Gan Israel-South Padre Island from its very beginning and went on to support the work of Chabad of the Rio Grande Valley and the Jewish community of Shoova Israel on South Padre Island. Alon Carmeli purchased the community’s first Torah scroll and dedicated the synagogue in memory of his father-in-law, Nissim Buganim, after whom his son was named.”
Rabbi Hecht further described the Carmeli family: “It is a close and loving family. They have a warm and open home. Community is very important to them. On South Padre Island, they would host large Shabbat and holiday dinners for the whole community in their home. They also opened their home to Chabad’s Roving Rabbis and to myself and my wife in our first summers on the island.
“Sean Carmeli is a hero of the Jewish people. Like Rabbi Akiva before him, he gave his life to protect the survival of the Jewish people. G-d, please continue to watch over our soldiers and send us Moshiach!”
Rabbi Hecht’s email closed: “Sean, we will miss you forever — but, we will make sure that your sacrifice will never be forgotten. Baruch Dayan Emet — may G-d comfort the family.”