Hundreds of mourners gathered at a candlelight vigil Sunday night for a Los Angeles native who was killed while fighting as an Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Defense Forces said Max Steinberg, 24, was one of 13 soldiers in the Golani Brigade that was killed in battle earlier Sunday. The brigade was engaged with Hamas fighters in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City. One other American who volunteered to fight for Israel, 21-year-old Nissim Sean Carmeli, of South Padre Island, Texas, was also killed in Shejaiya. Carmeli moved to Israel four years ago.
Steinberg was a Woodland Hills native who graduated from El Camino High School and attended Pierce College. News of his death was reported by the Jewish Journal, a Los Angeles newspaper, on its website.
"I really haven't wrapped my head around this. I can't believe it, I just can't believe it," said his mother, Evie Steinberg at the vigil.
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Steinberg's friends and members of the Jewish community huddled together in a West Hills Park to pay their respects.
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"He put all of his attention, his focus, his dedication to being the best soldier that he possibly could be," said Steinberg's father, Stuart.
"He was our family's inspiration, our family's spirit and he is worthy of you being here today," he added.
The father said Steinberg visited Israel for the first time in 2012 and decided he wanted to live there. He volunteered to join the Israeli army about a year later. He was a sniper.
The IDF did not immediately report how Steinberg was killed. But it said seven of the brigade's soldiers were killed at 1 a.m. Israeli time, when their armored personnel carrier drove over a bomb.
Three brigade members were killed in a firefight with Hamas, and three others were killed in when the Gaza City building they were in caught fire.
IDF claims that 140 rockets were fired into Israel from the densely-populated Shejaiya district, and that 10 tunnels leading to Israel have been discovered there, the Jewish Journal reported from Los Angeles.
The death toll has climbed to 501 Palestinians and 20 Israelis in 14 days of fighting, NBC News reported.
"We mourn the loss of Valley native Max Steinberg who was killed Sunday by Hamas terrorists while serving in the IDF," tweeted Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks).
Steinberg is survived by his parents and two younger siblings, a brother and sister. His family planned on traveling to Israel on Monday to bury him.
City News Service contributed to this report.