Tribute to David J. Steiner
When I first heard on Facebook from Leora that David had died, my first reaction was one of shock. I responded. “What?” Before getting a response, I began my research. Quickly I found that he had died in an accident. Later I found out it was a bus accident. Then much later, I saw a horrific post about the details of the accident on Facebook. Although it was on the news, I saw only the one post done by someone there. Somehow, I couldn’t stop myself from reading as much as I could.
I met David when he started teaching Hebrew at Kol Hadash. Ever since I was a girl, I have wanted to learn. At that time, in the 40’s girls didn’t have Bat Mitzvah’s at our reformed temple. I’ve tried many times before, by myself and with group lessons. Still I hadn’t learned. Other languages were easy, but not this one. So I came to class hoping to finally learn. Instead, David went into all kinds of background of the language. I was frustrated and complained. I figured if I was confused, the kids in Sunday School would be even more confused. But then something happened. I think I got caught up in the David Steiner charm. I looked forward to the classes every week. The first year there were a few adults in the class. The following year, people started, but didn’t seem to continue. I ended up being the only student. One on one with David was a pleasure. I was finally learning. Then, the temple decided he couldn’t come in for just one adult. He was so apologetic. He wanted to continue, but was told he couldn’t. But every week after that, we talked a little. Slowly I started to really look forward to seeing him. Then the news from Kol Hadash that he died.
I knew I wanted to go to the funeral. My husband, on the other hand, didn’t feel he wanted to go to a memorial service for someone he didn’t really know. Luckily I was able to go with my son and daughter-in-law. What a service! First of all, it was the largest group of people I had ever seen at a memorial service. I couldn’t believe it. How could the David Steiner I knew have so many people there? Then, it began. I never expected my reaction to be what it was. Our rabbi, Rabbi Adam Chalom, began. I learned about a different side of David. But also, hearing him talk made me very sad. I couldn’t not think the next time I heard him at a funeral; it might be my 91 year old husband’s. I thought about my father, my mother, sister and others whose services I had recently digitized. I hoped that this service was being saved for others to hear. The next speaker was a childhood friend. He told how he first met David at camp and his wonderful friendship began. I thought back to my childhood friends and was thankful that Facebook came and I was able to reconnect with several. A college classmate spoke and I learned about another side of David. It was easy to understand keeping up with college classmates because I do that through an email group and still go to reunions after almost 60 years. I can’t even imagine how Diane Kliebard, his fiancée, was able to speak. But speak, she did. She told of how she and David met, the various things she did, and the wedding vows she had written. She said they were engaged just 6 weeks after meeting. My husband and I were, also. However, we didn’t wait “years”, we were married before the end of that year. I guess it worked because last October we celebrated our 56th wedding anniversary. She closed with words of David’s from his birthday. How hard that must have been to say in front of all those people. Some she knew, but I’m sure many of us, she didn’t. David’s father spoke. Since I have children about the same age as David, I can relate. With each speaker, I found it harder to hold back the tears. My daughter-in-law handed me a Kleenex which I appreciated. His brother, Gregg, I think was next. Gregg talked about his best friend, his brother, who was 5 years older. I’m glad my grandsons, who are also 5 years apart are close, too. The older one describes his brother as the gift that keeps on giving because he and his brother have the same birthday. Again I thought how in creditably difficult this must be for Gregg. He paid tribute to Diane for the happiness she brought to the last 5 years of David’s life. There were few dry eyes in the audience when he finished. His children were called up. They held on to each other for what seemed like forever before his oldest daughter started to speak. She told of all the fun things that she and Abba had done. How important it was him to know she was happy. She ended with “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now that he’s gone. I call his phone, and when he doesn’t pick up I wonder if he just didn’t hear it. He left so many voicemails asking me to call him back, and it’s so frustrating that he doesn’t pick up. He’s supposed to pick up. “Do you have a kiss for your daddy?, ”Abba would say, and while I rarely wanted to lean into that stubbly cheek, now I wish I could.” More tears. When David’s son started there was a long pause with his children holding each other. Unfortunately his memories were more about the end of David’s life than what happened before. He doesn’t know how he is going to get past the final view of his father. His closing was about following his father’s dreams and hopefully being more like him. I understand he will be continuing to help with Hebrew at our temple for the remainder of the year. Last, but not least, came David’s youngest daughter. Her tribute ended with something we use in our family. “Abba always said, I would rather owe it to you than cheat you out of it. Abba, we were going out next weekend. You owe it to me.” She repeated it more than once. It was so sad. I think it was at this point that the person next to me put her hand on my arm to give me comfort. I know she was having a really hard time from the beginning. It seems that David made all his friends, our friends whether we knew each other or not. An amazing trait. I even found out that one of his friends in Israel had, for many years, also had been a friend of my cousin. Who knows how many others have unlikely friends. The next to last speaker was someone who talked with David for three years, but they hadn’t met until they traveled to Uganda, I think. One thing he said really got to me. He said, “I didn’t cry for my parents, but I am crying for the loss of my friend, David.” That’s the exact way that I feel. I don’t know why that is, but it is true. Each person who spoke told about a very different side of David. Before we knew it two and a half hours had passed.
Since then I have looked at photos, read about friendships from people all over the world. Each with a little different view, but all of them had been touched by David. Last week, Kol Hadash had a mini memorial during music for the Sunday School, a little singing and then some remembrances. There were only one or two chairs left when I arrived, so I sat down next to Itmar, David’s son, and asked him how he was doing. He said he was fine. He was listening, but near the end, he did what my grandsons do, he took out his phone to look at something. Just like any 16 year old. Diane was there also, having a very difficult time. One by one, a few people told their memories. Dawn mentioned his wearing a cow costume to the Purim festival. I remembered that day, too. I was looking at David during Hebrew when someone asked why he was wearing a cow costume. Since I wasn’t able to see just what it was from my place seated directly in front of him, I just thought he looked weird. He stood up and then told his cow story which I have seen a couple of times on FB. For someone like me who never has been able easily to act silly or look silly, I thought how wonderful that he would join in the kids’ fun. It is remarkable how David could make friends everywhere he went. Each of us has his or her way, of remembering and dealing with David’s death. This tribute is mine.
thank you for this. as an old friend of david, and as one who sang at the funeral, hearing this through your observations were quite meanignful
I guess I missed mentioning the beautiful singing. Probably because it took me so long before I began to write it. I just couldn’t get my thoughts together. The one question I had was how the non family members were chosen. And their names.
We chose people – and there could have been hundreds, truly – who were exceedingly close to a David and who also represented various of the circles of his life. Those friends were Marc Lipkin (closest childhood friend, from Lincolnwood), Ben Carmel (closest friend from Camp Tavor), Patrick Roberts (David’s dissertation advisor and professor during his doctorate schooling, dear friend and travel companion), and David Egen (cherished classmate at UCLA and long-dreamed-of partner on David’s last film, who was with a David in Uganda).
Thank yo,u Diane, for reading and telling me the names. Who were the singers and how were they connected?