A few weeks ago, when his condition was already hopeless and the cancer had spread throughout his body, Yisrael Beiteinu MK Yuri Stern came to the Knesset for the final time. When I ran into him in the parking lot, he smiled at me, optimistic as always, and gently shook my hand. When I asked him how he was doing, he smiled and said, "It'll be okay," even though it was clear from his expression that his situation was hopeless and his days numbered.
There is undeniable symbolism in the fact that it was so important to Stern, who died yesterday at age 58, that the bill he authored, granting benefits to needy Holocaust survivors, be passed by the Knesset before his death. Every time an MK visited him, he would ask when would his bill pass, and it was in fact passed into law a few weeks ago.
I met Stern in the mid-1980s, when he was a vigorous and energetic activist. In 1989, when I arrived in Moscow to cover a conference of Soviet Jewish communities, Stern didn't rest until he found me and another reporter an apartment room we'd be able to rent for 10 days.
Even after he was diagnosed with cancer, in May of last year, he continued to come to the Knesset each week.
In an interview he gave to Yedioth Ahronoth in June, he said, "I don't think about the chances. I know a lot of people who made it, whose condition was much worse than mine. Their success must guide me, not the doctors' statistics."
Yuri Stern was born in Moscow, and immigrated to Israel in 1981 with his wife and two children. Prior to that, he worked as a professor and researcher at Moscow University, where he earned his doctorate in economics.
He worked for the release of Prisoners of Zion in the U.S.S.R, including Natan Sharansky.
Sharansky said yesterday that "Yuri loved the Land of Israel without limits. I met him when I immigrated to Israel. There is no doubt he devoted his life to aliyah and to Israel."
He was first elected to the Knesset as a member of Yisrael b'Aliyah, in 1996, where he continued his activities in support of new immigrants. As chair of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, he would often receive delegations of immigrants and take great pains in assisting them with their problems. He also showed great interest in ecological concerns, and was a member of the Knesset environmental lobby.
In advance of the 1999 elections, Stern joined Yisrael Beiteinu, together with Michael Nudelman. In 2001-2002, under Ariel Sharon, he served as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Office.
Thousands attended Stern's funeral yesterday in Jerusalem, including ministers and MKs.
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