Obituary: Frankie Stein - a really good bloke

Via what Australians call "bush telegraph," the word of the former ZFA Israel director's funeral went out all over the world.

frankie stein 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
frankie stein 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
No one would have been more surprised than Frank Stein, the former director of the Zionist Federation of Australia's Israel office, by the huge crowd that turned up at his funeral at Givat Shaul Cemetery in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Stein, 52, died late the previous afternoon after a four-month battle with cancer. There was a small death notice in the press, but no details regarding the funeral. Yet via what Australians call "bush telegraph," the word went out not only all over Israel, but all over Australia and to points beyond. Within two hours of an e-mail with the sad news being sent to Australia, where it was already well past midnight, messages came flooding in to Stein's brother Benny, as well as to friends and colleagues in Israel. In the Australian vernacular, Stein was a really good bloke. He was a rare breed who couldn't do enough for others but refused to accept any gifts or favors for himself. Always cheerful and optimistic even in the face of the worst adversity, he was an extraordinarily caring person for whom being the director of the Zionist Federation office was not a job but a calling. No matter what the hour of day or night, he made a point of going to the airport to meet Australian youngsters arriving for study and volunteer programs. He helped new immigrants through bureaucratic hurdles. He drove carless Australians to all parts of Israel. When someone was given a raw deal, he often compensated them out of his own pocket. He had a knack for making people feel good about themselves and frequently boosted their egos by telling them his ever positive impressions of them or their potential in ways that made them see themselves differently. He also persuaded people to look at situations differently by being more aware of the cup that was half full than the one that was half empty. Several of the people who came to his funeral or sent messages said that if it were not for Frankie, they would have long ago returned to Australia. Some of his friends who knew him in Australia when they were all together in the Betar Zionist youth movement said they had come to Israel only because of him. He had also been involved in Hineini. One of five siblings, Stein was born in Brisbane, and after he became an adult moved to Sydney. In 1985, he settled in Jerusalem and worked for a number of organizations that were in one way or another affiliated with the Jewish Agency or the World Zionist Organization, which meant the whole of his working life was taken up with Israel-Diaspora relations. He also maintained a strong relationship with the Australian Embassy, befriending a succession of ambassadors. Current Ambassador James Larsen, together with other embassy staff members, attended the funeral and brought one of the many wreaths that was laid on the grave. After becoming director at the Australian Zionist Federation, Stein became something in the nature of a walking Western Wall for Australians who called him about every little problem. He was seldom too busy to listen to their complaints and their questions, and he was almost always able to help. Though everyone opened up to him, he was reluctant to share his own problems with others, and brushed off questions regarding his own welfare. He was almost embarrassed when anyone wanted to do something for him. Even when he was in the hospital and saw the concern of the visitors who came to see him, he joked about his condition, making light of it, regardless of the fact that he may have been uncomfortable or in pain. It is impossible to tell how many lives he touched, but the fact that the mourners at his funeral were aged from under 18 to over 80 and came from the farthest areas of the country to pay their last respects speaks volumes of the kind of person he was. A little over a year ago, he left the employ of the AZF and for a while was at leisure until he was given a short-term posting as an aliya emissary in South Africa. His big dream was to be an aliya emissary in Australia, where he could reconnect with so many of the young people to whom he had been a surrogate father in the hope of persuading them to make their homes in Israel. He would have done well. He just never had the chance to prove it.