Uri Orbach, the politician, journalist, children’s author, humorist and so much more, passed away yesterday at much too young an age (54). He will be sorely missed not only within his own religious Zionist circles but across the Israeli political spectrum and Israeli society in general.
There have been so many moving eulogies and appreciations of Orbach’s life. Here is a small selection:
Jerusalem Post: Uri Orbach will be remembered for his wit and ideals:
A bespectacled man of slight build with a thick mustache and crocheted kippa, Orbach never looked like he could pack as hard a punch as he did whenever he took the podium, but words were both his weapon and his plaything.
He had an unparalleled ability to string them together in a way that was simultaneously entertaining and effective.
Before Orbach entered politics, running on the Bayit Yehudi-New NRP list in 2009, he was best known as a humorist, radio host, columnist and author of books for children and adults, whose talent for word play and wit was unmatched.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett posted a video of a 1994 political TV program on Facebook Sunday night, in which everyone participating praised then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin for shaking PLO chairman Yasser Arafat’s hand, and Orbach was the only one to say – managing, as he did in the Knesset, to be both witty and serious at the same time – that just because his fellow members of the press were throwing a victory party, and just because Rabin shook his hand, Arafat didn’t turn from a murderer into a statesman.
Orbach wrote the 90s political slogans-turned-ubiquitous- bumper-stickers; “The Nation is With the Golan” and “Hebron From Time Immemorial,” to oppose territorial concessions.
Yet of all the puns and digs at the Left he made over the past decades, perhaps the most influential phrase turned by Orbach was “Send the Best to the Press,” a take on the well-known Hebrew phrase “Send the Best to the Air Force.”
When Orbach moved from the religious press to the general one, most famously co-hosting Army Radio’s The Last Word and writing a column for Yediot Aharonot, his was one of the few crocheted kippot seen on members of the mainstream media, strongly representing the Right’s cause.
Orbach encouraged his fellow religious-Zionists to follow in his footsteps and let their voices be heard. By the time he died, religious-Zionists played central and visible roles in just about every media outlet in Israel.
Orbach did not only plant a seed that grew into fruits of religious- Zionist influence in the media. Though Bennett is the charismatic face of that group’s political renaissance, Orbach was its catalyst.
Not only religious-Zionists were touched by Orbach’s wit and innovativeness. As senior citizens minister, he took an underfunded portfolio and turned it into a positive influence on senior citizens’ lives, fighting for their rights and encouraging those who can to get out of the house and volunteer their vast experience to help others. He used his never-ending creativity to invent “Tuesday in Suspenders,” a day on which senior citizens received discounts on entertainment.
Weeks ago, when Orbach entered the hospital, MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) wrote a Facebook post about their long friendship, saying they got along well both as journalists and as politicians despite their ideological differences.
“He is one of the funniest people I know,” she added, sharing a text message Orbach sent her before the Labor primary wishing her “big success in a small party.”
Ynet have reproduced Orbach’s final column in Yediot Aharonot before he left journalism for politics.
Arutz Sheva reported on the eulogies of Knesset MKs and ministers: There was no one who didn’t love Uri:
Earlier Monday, Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett eulogized Orbach on social media.
“My older brother has departed,” he wrote. “Uri, a man of laughter and seriousness, of wisdom and uprightness, of courage and vision. Uri knew how to chisel an ideological path with insistence and charm, industriously but with a wink, with unending self-consciousness and unfading personal charm. Uri knew how to make children happy with his books, make their parents laugh with his witticisms, and bring their elderly parents an honorable old age.”
“He raised generations of young people in the media and showed them that their dream is possible. Generations of religious and secular people learned from him that the connection between them is possible,” Bennett continued.
“He was a man who loved the land and loved people without limits. He loved the People of Israel and they loved him back so much in return. In the cynical, cold world there was no one as beloved as Uri. I will miss him very much.”
“I have lost a real friend today, a friend in times of difficulty and joy, a person to consult with and a person to laugh with. I have lost a friend without whom I would not be here today. I convey my condolences to his wife Michal and the four children. We will continue in Uri’s path, and it will be much more difficult and sad without him.”
Even leftist MKs expressed mourning over Orbach’s passing.
“My friend Uri Orbach died and it’s sad and painful,” Labor MK Shelly Yechimovich wrote on her Facebook page Monday. “It is outrageous and unjust that the course of his life – the best of all, the most sensible and honest of all, the funniest of all – has been severed so young.”
“We were born in the same year, same month, same day, and at the same time,” she continued. “The relationship between us, even though we belong to two opposing political camps, was extraordinarily close despite political differences.”
She said that “complex issues which had sparked a debate, Orbach knew how to spice them up with humor, and broke through barriers and opened the door to a more pleasant and respectful discourse.”
“His entry into the world of politics has been a model for other journalists,” she added. “His love for Israel was manifested in his political interests, and he spoke clearly and fluently about them, about his desire to build a stronger and better society, a more tolerant one.”
The sweetest eulogy was written by Haviv Rettig Gur in the Times of Israel:
“I invited Uri to my wedding,” recalled a Knesset employee who asked not to be named. “He told me he couldn’t make it because his son’s wedding was the day before.”
The employee worked as an aide for a competing party to Orbach’s Jewish Home, so it was unlikely the popular lawmaker and well-known former journalist could glean any political benefit from attending the wedding.
But it was that very fact that vexed him. “He was so worried I would think he was just giving me an excuse not to come,” the aide recalled, “that he brought me an invitation to his son’s wedding as proof of where he’d been.”
It was an incident the Knesset aide never forgot, and is of a type with the memories that surfaced in conversations and Facebook posts after news of Orbach’s death became public on Monday afternoon. That kindness and sympathetic instinct did not diminish as Orbach’s acclaim as a journalist grew or, in his last years, as his political standing won him a seat at the cabinet table.
Many also recalled his honesty.
There was little doubt on Monday that his religiosity formed an important part of the personality so admired by his friends, colleagues and acquaintances.
One non-religious Knesset aide recalled Monday that Orbach used to chastise secularist politicians who voted to cut the generous child benefits the state offered to large, primarily ultra-Orthodox families.
“He used to ask, ‘Why are you cutting subsidies to religious families?’” the aide recalled. “‘Where do you think secular Israelis come from? There will be fewer of you, not them,’ he would say.”
His was a sense of humor that cut through the raw emotions such sectoral clashes over public funds often generated in the Knesset. “He could tell the secular public that they depended on the religious, but in a way that also told the religious their own kids were joining the secular public,” the aide said.
Channel 2 anchor Sivan Rahav-Meir posted to Facebook a page from the children’s book “I promise,” penned by Orbach. On the page was a poem: “We reach Heaven / after 120 years / the poor / and the rich alike. / There they don’t ask / if you bought houses / and streets, / there the main thing / is that you collected good deeds.”
The Israeli political class was stung by the loss on Monday not of a cabinet minister, but of a man who would go out of his way to avoid offending a junior aide in a competing party, an ex-journalist who didn’t believe in “off the record,” a polemicist and advocate who brought to the most fraught issues on the national agenda the sincerity and guilelessness of the children’s books he authored.
Amongst his many other talents, Orbach also founded the children’s magazines Otiyot and Sukariyot of which my children, and now my grandchildren are avid readers. His beautiful, gently humorous and witty children’s books entertained my children, and now my grandchildren too and are a fixture on the bookshelves of thousands of religious families.
Israel, the Jewish People and the world are a poorer sadder place without Ori Orbach z”l. May he rest in peace and may his memory be for a blessing. May his family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
יהי זכרו ברוך