As Israel's Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism, Yom HaZikaron, approaches, Israelis pause to remember and honor the men and women who have given their lives in defense of the Jewish state and its people. This solemn day offers a moment of collective reflection, allowing them to express gratitude and admiration for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. It is also an opportunity to pay tribute to some of the extraordinary individuals who have left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens.
In this spirit, I would like to share the stories of three American-Israeli heroes who fought and died for Israel: Mickey Marcus, Michael Levin, and Steven Sotloff. These men, who each played a unique role in Israel's history, represent the best of both worlds – a blend of American and Israeli cultures and values. As a friend of Michael and Steven and an admirer of Mickey Marcus, I feel a deep sense of pride and responsibility to honor their memories and carry on their legacy.
Mickey Marcus: The First Head of Israel's Defense Force
Mickey Marcus, born in New York City in 1901, was an exceptionally talented individual who excelled in his legal profession and as a battlefield commander. A graduate of West Point, he served as a prosecutor in New York City and fought in World War II. Recognizing his unique skills and dedication, David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, invited Marcus to help train the nascent Israeli army during the War of Independence in 1948.
Marcus became the first head of Israel's defense force, playing an instrumental role in shaping the fledgling military. Under his command, the Israeli army transformed from a group of untrained and underequipped volunteers to a cohesive and effective fighting force. Tragically, Marcus was killed in a friendly fire incident in June 1948. Though his life was cut short, his legacy lives on in the Israeli military and the nation he helped protect. To learn more about American volunteers in Israel's War of Independence, you can visit their virtual museum here.
Michael Levin: An Unwavering Commitment
I met Michael Levin in high school, where we instantly connected during a trip to Boston for a synagogue youth group trip over our shared love of the Philadelphia Phillies. Originally from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Michael moved to Israel after high school and joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Paratroopers Brigade. He was a proud and dedicated soldier who always sought to make a difference.
During the summer of 2006, after the Lebanon War broke out, Michael was called to fight. I remember a conversation I was told about just before he left, and I could sense his determination and courage. He told a mutual friend of ours, "This is what I was born to do. I have to protect my people and my country." It was the last time our friend would ever speak to him.
Michael Levin was killed in action on August 1, 2006, at the age of 22. His death was a devastating loss, but his memory continues to inspire others to serve and protect Israel. The Lone Soldier Center in his name helps soldiers like Michael, who leave their families and homes abroad to join the IDF.
Steven Sotloff: The Journalist Who Risked It All
I first encountered Steven Sotloff at college, where we bonded over our American-Israeli heritage and our passion for journalism. An incredibly talented writer, he was driven by a desire to share the truth with the world. After graduating, Steven became a freelance journalist, covering events in the Middle East. His work appeared in renowned publications such as Time, Foreign Policy, and the Jerusalem Post.
In August 2013, Steven was kidnapped by ISIS in Syria while reporting on the civil war. He was held captive for over a year before being brutally executed in September 2014. As his friend, the pain of losing Steven is indescribable. However, I find solace in remembering his unwavering commitment to journalism and his bravery in facing danger to bring the world the truth. His legacy lives on in memoriam through the 2Lives: Steven Joel Sotloff Foundation.
American-Israeli Testament to Shared Values
On the evening of Monday, April 24th, American Israelis will come together as a community to express their gratitude and admiration for their service, reaffirming their commitment to the values they fought for, and honor the memory of Mickey, Michael, Steven, and all those who have given their lives for the State of Israel.
As American-Israelis, Mickey Marcus, Michael Levin, and Steven Sotloff represent the best of both worlds. They exhibited immense heroism and dedication, making the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Their memories will forever live on in the hearts of those who knew them and will continue to inspire future generations of American-Israelis to contribute to the defense and betterment of Israel and the United States of America.
As I reflect on the stories of these three extraordinary American-Israelis, I am reminded of the strength and resilience of this community, which proudly straddles two cultures and is dedicated to contributing to the success and safety of both nations. Their legacies serve as an inspiration for future generations to continue forging strong connections between the United States and Israel, maintaining the unique bond that unites our two countries.
In times of conflict and strife, it is essential to remember and honor the commitment made by individuals like Mickey, Michael, and Steven. Their bravery, determination, and devotion to their chosen paths imbues the values of both Americans and Israelis. By celebrating their lives, one not only pays tribute to their memory but also reaffirms the commitment to the ideals they fought for.
Remember the lessons imparted by these three extraordinary American-Israelis. May their stories continue to inspire others to act with dauntlessness and conviction, and may their memories serve as a guiding light for all who strive to make a difference in this world. In honoring them on this Yom HaZikaron, one can ensure that their spirit and legacy will live on, inspiring future generations of American-Israelis to carry on their remarkable legacy.
Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum.