Max Steinberg and Nissim Sean Carmeli grew up in America. But they both developed a passion for Israel.
The young men's love of Israel ultimately led them to join the Israel Defense Forces, and they ended up fighting for the Jewish state in the Gaza Strip this week.
On Sunday, Steinberg, 24, and Carmeli, 21, were killed there. They were among 13 Israeli soldiers and 65 Palestinians killed Sunday during the first major ground battle in two weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Steinberg, whose family lives in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, was a sharpshooter for the Golani Brigade, his father, Stuart Steinberg, told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Earlier Sunday, the IDF said in a statement that Carmeli, 21, a sergeant, 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. Carmeli was from Ra'anana, Israel, according to the IDF statement.
"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.
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.