A valiant battle against the ravages of cancer ended Tuesday with the death of Yisrael Beiteinu MK Dr. Yuri Stern.
The 58-year-old nationalist-camp legislator, who was first elected to the Knesset in 1996, continued to serve actively in the Knesset over the past year, even as he fought the disease. He is survived by his wife and two children.
Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik said the news of Stern’s death was a great blow. “The bitter news... stunned us all,” she said. “Yuri Stern symbolized in my eyes the Zionist immigrant who was absorbed well in Israel and became part of the parliamentary endeavor.”
Friend and columnist David Bedein wrote that Yuri Stern "was [in politics] to do one thing: to help people in need," and that it was likely the cruel Disengagement that struck him the fatal blow.
Stern will be replaced in the Knesset by the next in line on his party's list, David Rotem of Efrat, Gush Etzion. Rotem was the legal counsel for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha Council).
Born in Moscow in 1949, Stern earned his PhD in economics at Moscow University, where he later served as a faculty member. From early on, his leadership qualities became obvious, first in the former Soviet Union and then later in Israel.
Stern was an activist in the Zionist movement in the USSR, becoming a Soviet Jewish refusenik until he was finally allowed to immigrate to the Jewish state in 1981. Within a short time, he became the manager of the El David community.
He was elected to the Knesset on two Russian-immigrant lists - first Yisrael B'Aliyah, headed by Natan Sharansky, and then Yisrael Beiteinu. He served on many different committees during his ten-plus years in the Knesset, most recently as Chairman of the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee and the State Audit Committee. He also served on committees varying from those that dealt with locating and restoring Holocaust victims' property to trafficking in women. He also focused heavily on issues of immigration, absorption and Diaspora affairs.
Stern later founded and served as the spokesman for the Soviet Jewry Education and Information Center, the Council of Immigrants Association and the Soviet Jewry Zionist Forum. He also directed the Department of Absorption and Entrepreneurship of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, representing the business association in the USSR as well as chairing the Forum for Trade and Industrial Relations with the Soviet bloc.
He was hailed by Christian supporters of the Jewish State for his founding of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus in 2004, which he chaired until very recently, as well as his role as a member of the Jerusalem lobby.
“We lost one of the most ethical, diligent and loving of the people and Israel,” said National Union / National Religious Party MK Tzvi Hendel.
Hendel’s party colleague, MK Rabbi Benny Elon, concurred: “The Knesset lost a most 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. It was my privilege to be his friend.”
The funeral for Knesset member Yuri Stern was held in the Givat Sha'ul cemetery in Jerusalem at 4:00 p.m. Tuesday.