MKs pay tribute to 'renaissance man'

The name Yuri Shtern could be heard throughout the Knesset Tuesday, as MKs from across the political spectrum paid tribute to his notable career. Following a long illness, Shtern passed away Tuesday. The Knesset changed its plenum schedule to allow for a tribute to Shtern's career. His chair in the plenum remained empty and MKs stood for a moment of silence. Shtern's last appearance in the Knesset was two weeks ago, when the Knesset approved his bill to give government grants to Holocaust survivors who arrived in Israel after 1953. "Your concern helped me no less than medicines. I am continuing treatments and the illness has not been exterminated despite treatments," he told the Knesset during his last appearance. On Tuesday, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik said Shtern's bill was symbolic of his career. "I am overjoyed that he saw his bill pass, it was a bill that so clearly symbolized the issues that were near and dear to his heart," said Itzik. "Every time I spoke to him in these last few months I asked him what he needed. Every time his answer was the same: Please just advance my law." "The terrible news of his death hit all of us very hard, and has cast a dark cloud over the Knesset," added Itzik. "Shtern symbolized to me the Zionist immigrant who was absorbed effectively and became a partner in Israel's parliamentary achievements." The Israel Beiteinu faction, of which Shtern was a member, issued a statement praising him as a "first class legislator." "MK Shtern was a man of vision and spirit... a courageous fighter for the cause of aliya from the former Soviet Union," read the statement. Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman called Shtern "the last romantic in Israeli politics." He said he always worked hard for the people, which he preferred over his own personal advancement. "He was a renaissance man who was involved in many causes, including the environment, settlement and workers' rights," Lieberman said. "But more than anything, he raised the aliya flag and walked with it from Moscow to Jerusalem, where he remained from the time he arrived until his last days. He will be remembered as a knight who lived and breathed aliya and Zionism." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also issued a statement eulogizing Shtern's commitment to Jewish tradition. "Yuri was a cultured and well-read man with a deep consciousness for Israeli and Jewish tradition. He had uncompromising views as well as exceptional cultural and social sensitivity," the statement read. Natan Sharansky, who gave Shtern his start in politics, said he "stood tall" on the issues of aliya and settling the land of Israel. "His devotion to aliya and to the land of Israel was unlimited, and his readiness to invest energy, intellectual efforts and emotion into these causes was truly laudable," said Sharansky, who heads the strategic studies institute at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem research institute. MKs Benny Elon and Zevulun Orlev from the NU-NRP Party both said that the Knesset had lost one of its most important members. "The Knesset lost an important parliamentary member, the Russian immigration lost a leader and a public servant and the people of Israel lost a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel. I had the privilege of being his friend," said Elon. MK Zvi Hendel (NU-NRP) also called Shtern one of the "most ethical, diligent and loving of the people and Israel."