A tribute to my friend David J. Steiner
Many people do not know someone like David Steiner, who spent much of his life as an activist for peace. A Jew, Steiner reached out to Palestinians and Arabs to build bonds that would help overcome the divide that angrily keeps the two peoples apart
Published in the Des Plaines Valley News, the Southwest News-Herald, the Reporter Newspapers and the Regional News Jan. 5, 2017
By Ray Hanania
When you are a Palestinian whose mother is from Bethlehem, you come to appreciate true friends, especially Jews who share the same vision for peace.
That was David J. Steiner, a Jewish activist who strongly believed in bringing peace to Palestinians and Israelis. He was a Hebrew tutor and a rabbinical student in the seminary of the Humanistic Judaism movement and most recently a documentary film producer.
I first met David after I launched my standup comedy show, “Comedy for Peace,” following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
We quickly became friends and we would talk about how we could spread “peace” through comedy and other positive programs. He helped me organize a few shows where I performed my comedy, which is based on my marriage, and my wife and a son who are both Jewish.
Chicago Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr., was in the audience at one show and I remember he came up to us saying how inspired he was to see “a Palestinian and an Israeli standing together with their arms on each other’s shoulders.”
Just being together moved people.
Steiner and I shared a common belief, that Palestinians and Israelis (Arabs and Jews) are basically the same people. We are both overly emotional. We are both overly passionate. We both go from one extreme to another, from being excessively angry to being excessively kind and compassionate. There’s no in-between for Arabs and Jews, but are also both good people.
We didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything. But we understood you didn’t have to in order to do the right thing.
David dedicated his life to doing the right thing.
David managed buildings in Chicago and spent a lot of time helping needy people in those neighborhoods.
He was active with Americans for Peace Now, the American pro-peace advocacy group that fights for the Two-State solution that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at length about this past week.
The last email I received from him was about a dinner party he was putting on for a Palestinian peace activist who was in Chicago. I couldn’t make it. Middle East peace has been so far away in recent years. The whole topic is so depressing lately.
We lost touch but not the spirit of peace. He especially was always busy working on a project to help people who were in need.
I am not surprised that David became involved in a video project to save a local school. David used the power of communications to produce a documentary on the successful fight to keep the Barbara A. Sizemore Academy charter school open in Englewood.
David and I always talked about the power of communications. Perception is reality. The media is powerful. Understanding strategic communications can help deliver a strong positive message of goodness to others. It could even get Arabs and Jews to stop hating each other.
For me, standup comedy is just another way to communicate. Humor is the most powerful form of communications and can change how people view issues. It can help people overcome their anger and open their minds to peace.
David was working in Uganda on another documentary about the struggle of Sudanese refugees. He was with a son, two Sizemore students and other local activists when a bus he was riding in crashed. David was killed. The others, fortunately survived.
Though most of you probably didn’t know David, I hope that during your lives you are fortunate to meet someone like him who can inspire others to do what’s right and help other people who are in need.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)