JERUSALEM — Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres last month helped honor Rabbi Brian Lurie, the onetime S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation head who is resigning as the United Jewish Appeal's national executive vice president.
"You brought from San Francisco a golden gate to Jewish life," said Peres, and "a commitment from the depths of your bones, mind and heart."
The recently defeated premier added, "You really revolutionized the job," and joked, "I know why I'm leaving, but I don't understand why you're leaving."
Luminaries from the Jewish world and from across the Israeli political spectrum gathered toward the close of the Jewish Agency annual assembly to pay tribute to Lurie, who joined the UJA five years ago and will officially leave on Sept. 1.
They included Likud Finance Minister Dan Meridor, Jewish Agency chairman Avraham Burg, UJA president Richard Wexler and Marvin Lender, a UJA board of trustees member and former national chairman.
But the highlight, by far, was the appearance of the former prime minister, who embraced Lurie warmly and praised his service and vision as a Jewish leader.
Lurie's tenure at the UJA was a controversial one. His hallmark was the drive to reform the organization and its sister institutions to reflect what he saw as a dramatically changing relationship between Israel and the diaspora.
Sharing the views of his controversial friend, former Israeli Minister Yossi Beilin, Lurie sought a more balanced partnership, with both parties making a contribution.
This view was best reflected institutionally in new programs like Partnership 2000, which twins North American cities with Israeli regions for joint development projects, and in Lurie's stepped-up promotion of Israel experience programs for diaspora youth.
Critics of Lurie say he was not able to match his vision with administrative skills, failed to implement many of his ideas and sowed mistrust among Israelis at the Jewish Agency, the primary Israeli recipient of funds raised by the UJA-federation campaign.