Memorial Day for fallen Soldiers is a special day for Adir Steiner. It’s been 23 years since the death of his partner, Colonel Doron Meisel. During the time of his army service, Doron died from melanoma, a type of skin cancer. “Doron’s memory is still with me in my daily work, in my activity, almost every day. My activity began with his death, and indirectly related to that death”.
Indeed, Steiner began his struggle for LGBT rights with a personal fight, which was being the first gay man to be recognized as an IDF widower. From that struggle Steiner has become one of the leaders in the community, leading Tel Aviv’s Pride events for over a decade. He was among the founders of the LGBT Center at Meir Park.
Steiner, who currently serves as a deputy director of municipal service for public inquiries in Tel Aviv-Jaffa and is also in charge of the Freedom of Information Act, takes time out from work today, like all bereaved families, to connect to the memory of his former spouse.
“A visit to a military cemetery is always an event that connects you to Memorial Day,” he says. “It connects you to something from the Israeli narrative of bereavement. The IDF doesn’t let me forget that I was a family member of an IDF fallen soldier, because once a month they send me the envelope of benefits I receive. It is very important to me, because I don’t want to ever forget Doron “.
On Memorial Day, Steiner likes to sit at the computer and open Doron’s web page on the Remembrance website . “I look at the pictures and my memories sail,” he says. “Especially on Memorial Day, memories that raise a smile come to me. It is not a day of tears for me. I don’t remember the last time I cried out of memory related to Doron. It comes from a place of power. Memory strengthens me, Memorial Day strengthens me”.
Dr. Doron Meisel, 46 when he died, began his military service in the Armored Corps. After he completed his mandatory service, he went to study medicine at the Prebor University in Switzerland, although during his studies he returned to Israel to fight in the Six Day War. After completing his studies in Switzerland and at Tel Aviv University, he joined up for permanent service in the Medical Corps.
He took part in the Yom Kippur War, Operation Entebbe and a number of government delegations, including the peace delegation to Egypt, and in a rescue delegation for the survivors of the largest earthquake in Mexico City.
Adir says that Doron openly went to gay places. “This was a late 70’s, not like today. Society was much more closed to the subject. IDF Field Security, which had been very interested at that time in soldiers who went to gay clubs, recieved the news about ‘an officer whose belongings we need to rummage through’… and the investigations began “.
According to Steiner, Doron’s struggle was through personal conviction. “He wasn’t someone who fought the establishment, or addressed the press. His struggle was to convince the decision makers at the personal level – Moshe Levy, the former chief of staff, Dan Shomron, Yitzhak Rabin. He tried to explain to them why they were wrong. It seemed to have worked. Doron didn’t only remain in the army, but he was also promoted. ”
After four years of living together, Meisel came home in the middle of a working day, and asked to speak with his partner. “It was very unusual that he came home in the middle of the day,” says Steiner. “He called before to make sure I was home. He came, sat me down on the couch in the living room. Then he told me that he had cancer and was going to die soon. I cried a lot.”
“For four years it rolled between hope – new treatments, regression of the disease, hoping that maybe he could come out of it – and then deterioration,” he says. “And I remember the call from the professor in the United States, who told him there was no point in returning to America; they didn’t see how they could stop the progress of his disease.”
“One of the doctors here pressured him, and he agreed to continue the treatment. It was just one more visit in the United States, and then there was a continuation of the deterioration. A month after he returned, he died.”
After Meisel’s passing, Steiner felt a great sense of loneliness and emptiness. “I had feelings that had been very hard to deal with – I was angry at Doron, that he left me like that. I think that my recovery from his death began only really when I started the legal and media struggle against the army, to recognize me as the spouse of an IDF casualty. It strengthened my ability to function. ”
From the trauma of Doron’s death, Steiner began to function and plan for the future. “It later opened up a new place for new love. There is something very healing in this process.”
Steiner says that he feels a lot of gratitude toward Jonathan Danilowich, who was the first person in Israel who petitioned against discrimination based on sexual orientation and forced El Al Airlines to recognize his partner as entitled to benefits, just like any other spouse of an employee. At the time, Steiner was working at El Al with Danilovitch, who advised him to go out to fight for his rights.
“Today I advise people: if you’re not ready, if you don’t understand and don’t feel hurt or discriminated against because you’re gay, if you do not understand the meaning of it – do not go out to fight. Don’t fight just because you get any rights or money. It means nothing if you don’t internalize the meaning of it, if it’s not coming from within. “