Sean Carmeli, a Golani Brigade Fighter and a lone soldier from South Padre Island, Texas, was laid to rest Monday night as tens of thousands accompanied him on his final journey.
Sean’s two sisters live in Israel, and besides that he had very little family in Israel. It was initially feared he would not receive a respectable and proper funeral, as few in Israel knew him.
Realizing this, officials of the Maccabi Haifa soccer team, Sean’s favorite team, called on its fans to attend Carmeli’s funeral. In a heartfelt call to fans, the Maccabi Haifa soccer club urged its fans to “do a mitzvah (a good deed) and attend the funeral of fallen IDF soldier Nissim Sean Carmeli, so that his funeral will not be empty. Carmeli was a lone soldier, and we don’t want his funeral to be empty. Come to his funeral Monday night to pay respects to a man who died so that we could live. This is the least we can do for him and for our nation,” the message said.
The message was passed through Israeli social media and news outlets like a brush fire, and over 20,000 people heeded the call and attended the late night funeral in Haifa. The turnout was so overwhelming that many were stuck in traffic on the way, and some received medical treatment at the funeral as a result of the crowding.
No one knew him, but all felt they had to come and pay their last respects to a fallen soldier who died protecting them. “I don’t know him, and I am not a Maccabi Haifa fan, but I received the message and decided I was going. We are coming to pay our last respects to someone who is a hero to us,” said one mourner.
Another mourner, who made the long drive from the south, said she came to say thank you. “He came here to protect us. He has no family, and so we are his family at this time.”
Carmeli, 21, a US citizen, was killed on Sunday in Gaza. He was part of a team of seven Israeli soldiers, who were all killed when an explosive device reportedly detonated on their armored vehicle. Carmeli had been given the opportunity to avoid service in Gaza because of a foot injury, but insisted on going anyway.