The two Americans killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip followed in the footsteps of scores of Jews from around the world who have volunteered to fight for Israel.
Israel calls them the lone soldiers: They are men and women in the prime of their lives who have left their parents and often comfortable lives behind in places like Sydney, London, Los Angeles and elsewhere to join the Israel Defense Forces, marching in the desert and taking up arms to defend the Jewish state.
There are about 2,000 lone soldiers serving in the military, said Marina Rozhansky, spokeswoman at the Israel Consul General in Los Angeles. Groups for families of lone soldiers have recently started in Los Angeles and other cities, providing a support network as the fighting intensifies.
For Jews who left Israel before the age of 15 or who never lived there, their service is voluntary. For many, it is a calling, a way to get back to their roots and unite the world's Jewish population. Some have dual citizenship. Others speak little to no Hebrew and have only recently been to Israel.
Max Steinberg, 24, who grew up in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, joined six months after he visited Israel for the first time on a Birthright Israel trip with his younger brother and sister in June 2012, said Jake Steinberg, who spoke to The Associated Press hours after learning his brother, a sharpshooter in the Golani Brigade, was among 13 Israeli soldiers and scores of Palestinians over the weekend who died during the first major ground battle in two weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas. The Jewish Journal was first to report Steinberg's death.
"He got there and felt a connection to Israel, saw that as a place he could live and be successful, and he went for it," Jake Steinberg said.
Nissim Sean Carmeli, 21, the second American killed, was from South Padre Island, Texas, and he felt that same strong connection to the country he had only moved to four years ago.
"Lone soldiers are a kind of star in Israel," according to the Jewish Journal in a report. "For Israeli kids, army service is a rite of passage. But because it is a choice for the young members of the Diaspora who re-direct their own life paths to protect Israel, those enlistees are given a hero's welcome — and a lifetime of Shabbat dinner invitations from their fellow soldiers, who become their surrogate families."
Thousands of people attended Carmeli's funeral in the northern Israeli port town of Haifa after a Facebook status called for Israelis to come in droves so that the lone soldier would be not be alone at this final resting place. Tearful mourners rested their heads on his coffin, which was draped in an Israeli flag. Before it was lowered into the grave, piles of flowers were set upon the coffin, as mourners cried beside it.
Mike Fishbein, who grew up in Los Angeles, said he felt like he was missing a connection to his Jewish identity in California. He spent a year volunteering and studying in Israel, but that experience only deepened his desire to do more.
"I believe in that country. I believe in the Jewish people and the country's reason to exist, so I thought I can't just go back home to Los Angeles," said Fishbein, who served about two years with the Israel Defense Forces starting in 2009.
After Fishbein enlisted, he spent 30 days learning Hebrew along with more than two dozen others from Panama, South Africa, Australia and other nations. He then went through basic training, which included a 40-mile nighttime march through the desert. He lived for almost four months inside a worn tent from the Vietnam War era.
Israeli troops wondered why he would leave the palm trees and beaches they had seen in movies.
"They didn't understand why a kid from Hollywood was there," he said. "But after you stuck around, they would respect you and understand (that) we're here together to try and protect the same thing."
When Fishbein heard of the two Americans killed, it touched him deeply, he said. He has struggled to post on his Facebook page his emotions or even give an explanation to his friends in California as to why he felt the need to serve. He never wanted to join the U.S. armed forces, Fishbein said.
For the 25-year-old commercial production assistant, serving in the Israel Defense Forces was the culmination of milestones in his life, he said. In ninth grade, he accompanied his father with a documentary crew filming the unearthing of Jewish artefacts in a once largely Jewish town in Poland that was destroyed in the Holocaust.
"That was a surreal experience for a ninth-grade kid to go through, but it set me up to go to Israel and serve," he said. "Every lone soldier has had something similar."
Josh Reznick, 24, who works for a real estate investment firm in Baltimore, briefly considered joining the U.S. military, but after living on a kibbutz for a year, he realized his calling. He served in the same unit as the two Americans killed during the weekend. He did not know either of them, but he did know one of the fallen Israeli troops.
Reznick believes the Steinberg and Carmeli will be "shining examples" for other lone soldiers. He was inspired by Michael Levin, a lone soldier from Pennsylvania killed fighting for Israel in 2006. He visited his grave site in Israel, where his tombstone is covered in Phillies baseball hats and Eagles jerseys.
"It's very nice living in America and everything is fine. But I'm sure people right before WWII felt the same way about living in Germany," he said. "If only there had been a place to run to for the Jews. That's why it's important to keep Israel, a Jewish nation, alive."
Isaac Cohen, 18, of Silver Spring, Maryland, starts this month at an Israeli military prep school before joining the army next year. He isn't deterred by the recent violence.
"They teach you how to survive in Israel," said Cohen, who lived there for six years. "You kind of have to survive there. I feel a lot stronger when I'm there."
Associated Press writers Ben Nuckols in Washington and Tami Abdollah in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
ATLANTA (AP) — Businessman David Perdue has defeated longtime Rep. Jack Kingston in a Republican runoff for Georgia's U.S. Senate nomination, setting up a general election matchup against Democrat Michelle Nunn.
On Tuesday night, unofficial returns showed Perdue with a lead of more than 6,000 votes, with about 93 percent of precincts reporting.
Perdue is a former corporate CEO making his first bid for public office. He campaigned as an outsider and called Kingston a career politician who has done little to solve the nation's problems.
Kingston is an 11-term congressman from Savannah.
The Perdue-Nunn race will be one of the most critical matchups of the November midterm elections.
Republicans need six more seats to win Senate control for the final two years of President Barack Obama's administration. The GOP cannot afford to lose Chambliss' seat.
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Buddy Carter has won the Republican nomination to replace GOP Rep. Jack Kingston in the U.S. House.
Carter, a state senator from Pooler, defeated Savannah surgeon Bob Johnson in a Tuesday runoff in the 1st Congressional District, which covers southeast Georgia from the coast to the Florida line. Carter counted on his political experience and connections, while Johnson courted tea party voters.
Kingston stepped aside after 22 years as the district's congressman to run for the Senate.
Carter has served in the state Legislature since 2006. Before that he was mayor of Pooler, a small city outside Savannah.
In the November election, Carter will face Democrat Brian Reese of Savannah, who also won a runoff Tuesday.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's health care law is snarled in another big legal battle, with two federal appeals courts issuing contradictory rulings on a key financing issue within hours of each other Tuesday.
But the split rulings don't necessarily mean another trip to the Supreme Court for the Affordable Care Act.
And White House spokesman Josh Earnest immediately announced that millions of consumers will keep getting financial aid for their premiums — billions of dollars in all — as the administration appeals the one adverse decision.
In that first ruling, a divided three-judge panel in Washington called into question the subsidies that help millions of low- and middle-income people afford their premiums, saying financial aid can be provided only in states that have set up their own insurance markets, or exchanges.
About 100 miles to the south in Richmond, Virginia, another appeals court panel unanimously came to the opposite conclusion, ruling that the Internal Revenue Service correctly interpreted the will of Congress when it issued regulations allowing health insurance tax credits for consumers in all 50 states.
Split appeals court decisions are a classic route to the Supreme Court. But in this situation, it's far from clear what will happen because the administration still has a legal card to play.
Since the Washington case was decided by a three-judge panel, the administration will ask the full 11-member appeals court to hear the case. The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has seven judges appointed by Democratic presidents, including four by Obama.
If the full court comes out in favor of the administration, the prospect of Supreme Court involvement would be greatly diminished. On the other hand, if the full Washington court stays out of it or, after a hearing, essentially leaves the panel's decision in place, then the Supreme Court would almost certainly weigh in.
Democratic appointees also constitute a majority of the full appeals court in Richmond.
Both cases are part of a long-running political and legal campaign to overturn Obama's signature domestic legislation by Republicans and other opponents of the law.
In the Washington case, Halbig v. Burwell, a group of small business owners argued that the law authorizes subsidies only for people who buy insurance through markets established by the states — not by the federal government.
That's no mere technical distinction, since the federal government is running the markets, or exchanges, in 36 states.
The Washington court agreed with that objection, in a 2-1 decision that could mean premium increases for more than half the 8 million Americans who have purchased taxpayer-subsidized private insurance under the law.
Two judges appointed by Republican presidents voted against the administration's interpretation of the law while one appointed by a Democratic president dissented.
The majority opinion concluded that the law, as written, "unambiguously" restricts subsides to consumers in exchanges established by states. That would invalidate an IRS regulation that tried to sort out confusing wording in the law by concluding that Congress intended for consumers in all 50 states to have subsidized coverage.
"At least until states that wish to can set up exchanges, our ruling will likely have significant consequences both for the millions of individuals receiving tax credits through federal exchanges and for health insurance markets more broadly," wrote Judge Thomas Griffith.
"But, high as those stakes are, the principle of legislative supremacy that guides us is higher still," he added.
Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Pierce said the Washington court got it wrong.
"We believe that this decision is incorrect, inconsistent with congressional intent ... and at odds with the goal of the law: to make health care affordable no matter where people live," Pierce said in a statement.
In Richmond, the three-judge 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel was unanimous in its decision upholding the law's financing. That court said the IRS did a reasonable job of interpreting legal language that is "ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations."
In a concurring opinion, Judge Andre Davis used pizza as an analogy. He wondered what would happen if he were to ask a friend for ham and pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut, adding that Domino's would be fine as well. If the friend came back with Domino's, that would fulfill his request, he wrote.
The seemingly arcane issue could be crucial to the success of the health law because most states have been unable or unwilling to set up their own exchanges. The inaction stems in many instances from opposition by Republican governors to the Affordable Care Act.
It all revolves around four words in the 900-page law, which says tax credits to help pay premiums are available to people who enroll through an exchange "established by the state."
The challengers to the law say a literal reading of that language invalidates the IRS subsidy to people in the federal exchanges.
The Obama administration and congressional and state legislative supporters of the Affordable Care Act say the challengers are failing to consider the words of the statute in its entirety.
The Supreme Court has considered several challenges to the health care law, most recently ruling that some private companies don't have to cover birth control if it offends religious scruples. The biggest ruling came in 2012, when a divided court let stand the law's core requirement that most Americans carry health insurance or face fines.
MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — Barry Loudermilk has been chosen by Republican voters to take GOP Rep. Phil Gingrey's seat in Congress.
Loudermilk, a state senator from Cassville, defeated former congressman Bob Barr in a GOP runoff Tuesday for Gingrey's House seat in the 11th District, which covers part of Atlanta's northern suburbs.
No Democrats ran for the seat, essentially giving Loudermilk a free pass to Washington in the fall.
Barr, who helped lead the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton, was denied a congressional comeback more than a decade after he became a casualty of a redistricting that forced him into a losing primary race against a fellow GOP incumbent, then-Rep. John Linder. He ran for president as a Libertarian in 2008.
Loudermilk ran for Congress after a decade in the state Legislature.