Michael Levin was an American that made Aliyah to Israel to join the IDF. He was a devout young Jewish man and yet he personified one of the most well-known Scriptures of the Christian faith…
It was in August 2006, while listening to the local news broadcast in Philadelphia, PA that I first learned of an IDF paratrooper and Philadelphia-area native who gave his life in defense of Israel. The anchor was discussing the events in the Lebanon war and the story grabbed my attention as they announced that a young man from my area was among the Israeli casualties of that day. That young man was Staff Sergeant Michael Levin.
Many days passed since first hearing about his ultimate sacrifice in Lebanon on August 1, 2006, but during that period I often pondered what had taken place, and for some reason, Michael remained at the forefront of my thoughts. “Why?” I would ask myself, “am I so captivated with this particular soldier and his story?” and it pressed me to learn more. I had witnessed how Israel honored him, and I felt a deep and heartfelt empathy for the family, perhaps even more so having endured myself the loss of a sister who was almost the same age as Michael when she passed, but there was something else that was eluding me at that time, something driving me to learn more about this man.
Today I cannot fully comprehend what it was entirely, perhaps an array of things, but there was a drive in me to better understand who Michael was, particularly the events leading up to his passing, and what needed to be done or learned from it. What this endeavor led me to understand is that Michael Levin personified a heroic spirit that transcends the borders of Israel as well as the Judaic faith and serves as an example to all of us.
Michael was an American that made Aliyah to Israel to join the IDF. He was a devout young Jewish man and yet he personified one of the most well-known Scriptures of the Christian faith: “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ASV). Here is his story—mind you, it is extremely condensed—and the life-changing events that transpired to honor him as not only an Israeli hero, but an American one as well.
Michael Levin was born on February 17, 1984 in Holland, Pennsylvania to parents Mark and Harriet Levin. He has a twin sister named Dara and an older sister named Elisa, all of whom live here in the United States. He grew up in a traditional Jewish household and was active in HaGesher Region United Synagogue Youth (USY). In February 2001, Michael went to Israel for two months and attended the Alexander Muss high school program and, at the age of 17, Michael decided he wanted to make Aliyah to Israel and join a front-line combat unit in the Israeli Defense Forces, much to the surprise of his parents as they had anticipated his departure to college.
Michael’s dream of joining the IDF was hampered by a delay in paperwork, which frustrated him greatly as he was unable to even enter the IDF processing facility in Israel without this paperwork. His desire to join the IDF was so strong that he actually went around the rear of the building and climbed up to the second-story bathroom window, which was open, to gain entrance to speak with the officials in charge of the process.
In Israel, service is mandatory, so the processor who was accustomed to seeing people try to get out of serving was taken with Michael’s zeal and processed him that day! Michael’s dream was realized; he immigrated to Israel and joined the elite IDF paratrooper unit #890 shortly thereafter.
War With Lebanon
In the summer of 2006, Michael received special permission to travel to the United States to visit his family. When he heard about the outbreak of the war, he decided to end his trip early and return to help his unit. Upon his arrival in Israel, he went straight to his commanders and asked to be dispatched to join his unit up north to defend Israel against Hezbollah. Initially being refused as he was still listed as being on leave, Michael persisted and they finally relented and sent him to join his fellow soldiers in the combat zone. Seven days later he was killed in Ayta ash-Shab, Lebanon. Levin was one of three Israeli soldiers killed there on August 1, 2006. Another 25 soldiers were wounded and during a lengthy exchange of fire, the Israeli soldiers fought fiercely and killed some 15 Hezbollah fighters, according to the IDF. A memorial for Levin has been erected at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, the site of a major battle during the Six-Day War, and he was buried at the National Military Cemetery on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. His grave is located at: AREA (azor): Daled//SECTION (chelka): 6 in the cemetery.
In learning more about Michael, I also learned more of his family, particularly his parents, Mark and Harriet, and their efforts to honor the legacy their son Michael left behind and use it to better the lives of other chayal bodeds [lone soldiers who have no family in Israel1] like Michael with the establishment of the Michael Levin Memorial foundation. Their ambition is to provide assistance to needy lone soldiers; provide ballistic armor to those soldiers who cannot afford it; and, they were instrumental in the opening of the Lone Soldier Center and many other projects that seek to benefit these men and women in Israel.
Throughout this whole process I came to deeply admire not only Michael but also his family and I hold them in the highest regard. They mirror their son’s noble ambitions, courage and bravery with their actions since his passing, and it’s easy to see where the foundations for Michael’s character came from after meeting Mark and Harriet. They stared down the sorrow of their loss and beat it back with a courageous endeavor to provide support to other lone soldiers in Israel like Michael.
Honoring a Hero
Knowing this background, it felt incomplete, like something still needed to be done, and it took some time to figure out what it was. A little more than three years ago it finally clicked and I knew what needed to be done, however small, to gain a peace of mind regarding this soldier I never met. You see, Michael had been honored in Israel with thousands upon thousands attending his funeral, but what stood out to me is that he was also an American citizen and one who died for a friend of America, so the journey began to honor Michael as an American hero as well as an Israeli one.
In 2009, I spoke with my stepfather, Steve Hocker of Maple Falls, WA and discussed with him the plan to have a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in memory of Michael and asked if he would be willing to help build a very special case to hold that flag. He enthusiastically received this task and over the next two years we did many design modifications and finally had the case ready. In 2011, we submitted a flag request to Senator Bob Casey here in Pennsylvania, and on the 5th anniversary (yarzheit) of Michael’s passing, while his family was in Israel honoring their son, we ensured he was honored here in their absence and on August 1, 2011, the U.S. flag was flown in his memory over the United States Capitol building.
Upon receiving the flag and certificate from the Architect of the Capitol in Washington DC, fellow members of Soldiers Bible Ministry and a small group of fellow Christians traveled to Jerusalem and flew that flag on Sept 21, 2011 over Michael’s resting place at Mt. Herzl with the blessings of Michael’s mother Harriet.
David, the battalion commander who had invited us to come to Israel, said upon arriving at Michael’s spot, “You may have noticed that I did not need to ask you where Michael was located,” pointing to Michael’s site adorned with countless Phillies hats, bracelets, and notes. David then told us that the reason was because his soldier from the armored corps, Nir Cohen, had been killed eight days later and just 300 yards from where Michael had been killed and was buried at Michael’s right-hand side at Mt. Herzl. In Jewish tradition there is a saying. “Rabbi’s don’t believe in coincidence” and this was just another in a long list of “coincidences” that accompanied this endeavor, but those are stories for another time.
Upon returning to the U.S., not a day passes that I have not pondered this small thing I set out to do and the whirlwind of events, coincidences and connections that were made, as well as the role that Soldiers Bible Ministry, a ministry I co-founded, would play in it. What had initially started off as a personal endeavor would see Christians and Jews and the leadership from Soldiers Bible Ministry joining in the efforts to honor Michael and his family.
On June 27, 2012, Michael’s parents were presented the flag and case in a small gathering with the Consulate General of Israel here in Philadelphia, CG Daniel Kutner.2 In a meeting that lasted over an hour, we shared our experiences and stories about Michael and reflected on the events that had taken place. We marveled at the brotherhood between our two faiths, whose history helped bring about the birth of this fledgling Republic called America and how that same brotherhood exists between us in the establishment of Israel.
Today, the drums of war are beating against Israel louder than ever. If you are looking to support Israel and particularly the soldiers defending their nation today and are unsure as to how to do it, I would highly recommend that you take a look at the Levin family’s noble mission and throw your support behind them. You can check out their website at http://aheroinheaven.com/ which gives you more information as well as instructions on where to send donations.
If you are a pastor who would like to have a 45-minute presentation done at your church, please contact a good friend, Steve Litwok at email@example.com or call 1-800-886-7007 to learn more.
We salute you Michael—and we salute the Levin Family:
May the blessings of Ephraim and Manasseh rest upon you and may Hashem smile upon your efforts. While we cannot speak for Michael we know he would be deeply humbled by and extremely proud of the efforts you have made in his name.
[Ed. Note—It is our great honor to bring you this story. We join with SBM in thanking Michael’s family for their sacrifice.]