Tribute: The passionate, idomitable activist

By YULI EDELSTEIN
January 17, 2007 01:33
3 minute read.

Yuri Shtern had two great passions in public life - the Land of Israel and aliya. I knew Yuri from the late '70s in Moscow, where he already stood out as an able and intelligent leader in Zionist activities. We both taught Hebrew and made great strides in promoting aliya. In those days, he was very active; running around all the time and doing everything at once. This is how I will always remember him. What was very special about Yuri, up until his last days, was that he did everything with passion. He was always emotionally invested, and most MKs were willing to work with him because they saw his integrity. Yuri was also well-liked by fellow MKs for his sense of humor. I recall that during meetings a smile would spread across Yuri's face and he would lighten the atmosphere by sharing something funny. I always admired his intelligence. He got a doctorate at such a young age and I was happy to see him obtain an exit visa in order to put his skills to work in Israel. Once here, he became involved right away: He was one of the founding members of the Soviet Jewry Information Center in Jerusalem, where he commanded attention for the refuseniks and displayed his aptness in public relations. In 1988, he furthered his involvement with the Russian community when he became involved with the Soviet Jewry Zionist Forum. He proved his abilities as a leader early on as the manager of El David settlement, where he was very active in building a community. Yuri and I joined forces with Natan Sharansky and other MKs in 1996 to form the Israel B'Aliya party. From those first days, Yuri was already skilled in handling the public campaign. His stamina sometimes left other MKs burnt out, and his knowledge and passion always came through. He was always trying to increase public involvement in politics-from small business owners to the underprivileged population. And he had the wherewithal to stay informed on important issues and to check back in on legislations. Yuri's accomplishments as an MK and on committees were amazing. His legislations dealt with crucial issues such as national insurance, pensions and new immigrants. But it wasn't only olim who benefited from his policies; he wanted to better all aspects of the country. Israeli cinema owes him a "thank you" for passing government subsidies for film production. He should also be praised for moving forward healthcare policies involving acupuncture. The policies Yuri worked on speak for themselves. His issues had more than political significance - they had social and public importance, as well. He really sought to introduce change, and he was effective. Yuri had dazzling knowledge in the fields he worked, and often was sought out for advice from other MKs. Yuri was a humanist; he was adamant about helping victims of terror, Holocaust survivors and veterans. The last legislation he pushed before his passing dealt with giving assistance to low-income Holocaust survivors. He also led legislation that helped thousands of WWII veterans. I know, also, that Yuri made huge waves in Christian-Zionist activities by heading up the Christian Allies Caucus, which rallies support for Israel. After he took ill in June, it was clear that he felt a strong sense of public duty even in the face of his illness. After he'd finished all of these terrible treatments, he would always come back, even when it wasn't easy for him. He was very eager to fight the disease, showing his determination. Despite political differences, I consider Yuri a friend. In Israel, it can be compared to people going through a war serving in the same unit. We can be in different parties and have political fights, but in real moments and ideologies, we always felt we were on the same side. The biggest loss of Yuri Shtern is for his family, but his passing is a loss for all of Israel, as well. Yuli Edelstein is a former minister and Israel B'Aliya Knesset member. He was speaking to Laura Rheinheimer.


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