Jewish Home minister Uri Orbach dies at 54

Widely respected lawmaker dies in hospital after battling unspecified ailment

MK Uri Orbach of the Jewish Home party (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Uri Orbach of the Jewish Home party (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Pensioner Affairs Minister Uri Orbach died Monday morning at age 54 after fighting an unspecified blood illness.

Orbach, from the Jewish Home party, took a break from political life last month to receive treatment and was hospitalized in Jerusalem’s Shaare Tzedek hospital, where doctors said Sunday that they were fighting for his life.

The Jewish Home minister was to be laid to rest at 4 p.m. Monday in his hometown of Modiin. He was survived by his wife Michal and four children.

Orbach was born in 1960 in Petah Tikva. He served in the IDF’s Tank Corps while studying in a yeshiva in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, after which he began teaching and writing. He rose to prominence as an author of several children’s books and as a well-respected journalist for a number of national media outlets.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he grieved the passing of “a writer, journalist, spiritual man, Jewish patriot.”

“Uri conquered with his charm all his audiences with his knowledge and deep wisdom which stemmed from deep in his soul,” the prime minister said in a statement. “I never met anyone who knew him who didn’t love him. Yesterday, alongside his family, I parted from him in the hospital with the feeling of grief and deep loss.”

“Uri will be greatly missed by his dear family, his friends in the government of Israel and by the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said. The prime minister called a special session of the government to mourn Orbach on Monday afternoon.

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, a friend and colleague of Orbach’s, said at a meeting at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that “Uri was a good man. Uri had a huge Jewish spirit.”

Orbach was the one who brought Bennett into politics, the Jewish Home party leader recalled. “He had civil courage to stand up; even when there were 20 people in the room who thought otherwise, Uri stood up for his views. I’m going to miss Uri, my older brother. May he rest in peace.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Orbach was “a central character in the elevation of the state of Israel in recent decades and his great influence on Israeli society shall remain forever.”

“Orbach succeeded in giving a voice to a large and important group in Israeli society, and was a man who knew well how to integrate a love of the land of Israel and the people of Israel. May he be of blessed memory,” he said.

Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin visited Orbach in the hospital on Sunday night, Israel Radio reported.

Orbach was elected to the 18th Knesset in 2009. He was made pensioner affairs minister in 2013.

Orbach announced he was receiving treatment for an unspecified ailment in January, returning to the hospital two weeks after a previous visit.

“I have to take the time to treat urgent and important medical issues for my health,” Orbach wrote on Facebook at the time. “Thank you for your prayers and your concern.”

The lawmaker implored followers to avoid visiting him and not to spread rumors and hoped to return to full health “along with all of the other patients in Israel.”

Orbach said he had waited until the legislature was in recess in order to undergo treatment.

Orbach was widely respected and liked in the Knesset, even by opponents from across the aisle.

Justin Jalil contributed to this report. 

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