MK Yuri Shtern, a Soviet aliya activist who pioneered relations with Evangelical supporters of Israel around the world, died Tuesday morning in Jerusalem. He was 58.
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Shtern passed away early Tuesday morning at Hadassah-University Hospital, Ein Kerem, after a six-month battle with cancer.
He was buried Tuesday evening in Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert paid tribute to Shtern as a "man of culture and letters with a deep awareness of Israel's heritage and of Jewish tradition."
"His uncompromising political views were accompanied by extraordinary cultural and social sensitivity," Olmert said. "Yuri fought his illness bravely, and even though he knew his days were numbered, he never stopped fighting."
The hawkish Israeli Beiteinu lawmaker, whose promising political career was cut short by his illness, was respected by political allies and foes alike.
Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik called him a "paragon" who symbolized the Zionist immigrant who was well absorbed in the country.
Shtern was born in Moscow on March 29, 1949 and immigrated to Israel in 1981.
An economist by training, Shtern, who was active in aliya organizations and a member of the Zionist Forum for Soviet Jewry, never lost his fervent love of the Land. He was an active promoter of aliya for more than 25 years.
Shtern was first elected to the Knesset in 1996 as part of Natan Sharansky's Yisrael B'Aliya Party, only to switch three years later to Israel Beiteinu. He rose to No. 2 on the party's Knesset list last year.
Over the last three years, Shtern gained prominence overseas as the founder of the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus, the increasingly-influential cross-party parliamentary lobby that may prove to be his most lasting legacy.
The caucus catapulted the intellectual Shtern to virtual stardom in the Evangelical world.
"Part of his significant legacy will certainly be the bridge of understanding, friendship and cooperation he was between the Christian world and the State of Israel," said Robert Stearns, the head of Eagles' Wings Ministries in New York.
His rich parliamentary career included a two-year stint as deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Office, and a stint as chairman of the Knesset's Interior and Environment Committee. During the current Knesset, he was chairman of the State Control Committee.
His right-wing political views were coupled with a profound concern for the environment.
This past summer, he was belatedly diagnosed with cancer. The disease, which had spread through his body, had been misdiagnosed months earlier as sinusitis by the Knesset's doctor.
Never one to give in, Shtern underwent multiple operations over the last six month, both in Israel and abroad. Despite his condition, he continued to frequent the Knesset, prepare new legislation, and attend caucus meetings until the last few weeks.
Shtern also helped found the Shevet Ahim Conservative synagogue in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.
On a chilly Jerusalem evening, hundreds of people paid their last respects Tuesday evening to 'the intellectual,' as Shtern was widely known, as he was laid to rest in Jerusalem.
The predominantly Russian-speaking crowd included fellow parliamentarians and a honorary Knesset guard.
After his body was lowered into the grave, as a golden sun set beneath the clouds hovering in the wintry Jerusalem sky, a violinist played some of his favorite tunes.
He is survived by his mother, wife, two children and two grandchildren.