Activist, filmmaker David Steiner killed during bus crash in Uganda

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UGANDA -- David Steiner died in a bus crash in Uganda yesterday working for a cause he strongly believed in.

To those who knew him, Steiner was a fierce social activist. He fought hard for those who had a hard time fighting for themselves. He took on the world with a sense of commitment and, with his shock of gray hair and broad smile, a laugh that was contagious.

"Laughing was a really important part of our life. And he looked for things that were joyous in people and in circumstances," said his fiancee Diane Silverberg.

Steiner was a filmmaker best known in the Chicago area for his documentary about Barbara Sizemore academy in Englewood. CPS was closing the charter school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. His documentary was successful in keeping Sizemore open. But it was his most recent work that propelled him onto the international stage and to Uganda.

Under the working title of “Love in the Time of Deportation,” the documentary followed two boys from Sudan who became refugees in Israel and then were part of a mass deportations by the Israeli government. David’s son Itamar, now 16, befriended Poogey and Deng when they lived in Tel Aviv. This documentary is about how Israeli citizens took these children under their wings so they were able to go to a boarding school in Uganda. David paid for Deng’s tuition.

When the bus crashed yesterday morning, they had just left the boarding school and were heading to visit a tribe of African Jews to celebrate Hanukkah. David lived by the maxim: "if you save one life, you save the world."

"He was very devoted to these boys, Poogey and Deng, and I think wanted to humanize them as refugees at a time when we can get refugee fatigue," Silverberg said.

One of the last pictures David posted on Facebook was him dressed as Santa. David is Jewish but he wanted to help his Christian friends celebrate their holiday. He posted a lot of pictures. That is what family and friends will remember most about David Steiner: his love of life.

"He’s like, 'Steiner’s aren’t like regular people. We’re a little peculiar,'" recalled his daughter Sahar Steiner, a sad smile on her face.

Steiner’s son was also on that bus, as were two children from Barbara Sizemore Academy. None of them were seriously hurt. David was excited to show them their African roots. A funeral will be held this weekend, and thousands are expected to attend.

Learn about Steiner's work with the Ugandan boarding school.