In response to a widespread social media call to honor a fallen soldier, some 20,000 people crowded the military cemetery in Haifa on Monday evening for the funeral of Staff Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli, one of two U.S. citizens who were killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip early Sunday morning.
Because Carmeli had lived in Texas for most of his life, and his parents split their time between Israel and the United States, his friends were concerned his funeral would be sparsely attended and decided to reach out to Israelis around the country to come and pay their respects. The 21-year-old Golani Brigade soldier rooted for the soccer team Maccabi Haifa, whose fans shared the details of his funeral online, encouraging people to attend.
The effort succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations. “The thousands who came to pay their respects show the rare unity of the nation of Israel,” said Meir Azoulay, a Haifa suburb resident who attended the funeral.
‘The least we could do’
“Carmeli’s close friends approached me with great concern that very few people would attend his funeral because he was a lone soldier,” said Raphael Kabessa, owner and founder of the Maccabi Haifa Football Club fan website. “Lone soldier” is a term generally used for Israeli soldiers whose parents live outside the country.
“I immediately jumped on board,” Kabessa said. “I decided to use all the tools available to me in the virtual world — which reach about half a million people — to spread the details and ask people to pay their final respects to a man who defended our country with his life and was a true fan of Macabbi Haifa.
“It is almost unbelievable how many people came through. This is the least we can do for our country, and for a man who was killed so that we can live in peace.”
Hundreds of people shared Kabessa’s message on Facebook, leading to the overwhelming turnout at the funeral.
“You told us so little about your service because you didn’t want to worry us,” Lenny Bouganim eulogized, speaking on behalf of the Carmeli family at the funeral. “When we heard you had fallen, we prayed for a miracle — and even though your name is Nissim [Hebrew for “miracles”] Sean, there was no miracle. You were loved and cherished. Everyone loved your modest manner and your beautiful smile.”
Carmeli lived in the central city of Raanana, and the city’s mayor, Ze’ev Bielski, also spoke at the funeral, saying, “He tied his fate to that of the country. And even after he injured his leg at the beginning of the mission, he insisted on returning to the battlefield to fight alongside his friends.”
Carmeli’s girlfriend, Eden, said he had fallen in love with Israel when he first arrived with his family, and he had chosen to stay even when his parents returned to Texas. “We had plans for the future,” she said at the funeral. “You were sensitive and loving and you excelled at everything. I’m proud of you and of the legacy you left behind.”
‘You fought fiercely’
A lieutenant colonel from the Golani Brigade eulogized Carmeli, saying, “You commanders say that you were a dedicated combat soldier who loved the people of Israel and the country. You fought fiercely, and two cowardly terrorists shot you from behind. Dear Carmeli family, be proud of your son as we in the Golani Brigade are proud of him.”
Carmeli is survived by his parents, Alon and Dalya, and his sisters, Or and Gal.