- October 29, 2009

I have fond memories of Bob (yes, my memory does go that far back) as one of nature's gentleman, and a real mensch, imbued with "hadari Betar". Please convey my sincere sympathy to yourselves, family and friends on his passing. Best wishes,

- Peter Wagner

Bob Shteinman was a true individual and a great character who has left a significant legacy to the Sydney Jewish community and most especially the Zionist movement.

Bob will long be remembered by the community for his involvement with the Betar youth movement and his role as one of the founders of Masada College.  The very name of the school was his suggestion.

Bob was a very charismatic man, and it seems that those from his generation, male or female, cannot reminisce about him without mentioning his strikingly handsome looks and charm.

Boris Lazarus Shteinman was born in Harbin, China in 1929, the only child of Zinaida Hootoransky - formerly of Chelyabinsk, Siberia - and Lazar Shteinman, originally of Odessa, in the Ukraine. Lazar and Zina had independently relocated to China from Russia following the Communist Revolution of 1917. When Bob was six they moved to Tientsin where Lazar established a successful dry goods store.

From an early age Bob’s  individual streak showed itself when he was expelled from Tientsin Jewish School, apparently for brandishing a knife and threatening to do certain things to a teacher named Nachman, who happened to be observing from a doorway. (Many years later the adult Bob visited Mr Nachman in America,  taking care to make amends.) At Tientsin’s Catholic school, Bob encountered some anti-semitism and so resolved to be the best scripture student in the school. He eventually convinced his parents - and the school - to be accepted back into the Tientsin Jewish School.

Bob’s life in China was privileged but also adventurous. The cinema was a beloved pastime, but more profound was the Jewish youth movement. Betar played a central role in the life of the Jewish youth in Tientsin and particular in Bob’s life. He would recall how on the eve of Rosh Hashana the Rabbi would march down the main street towards the synagogue leading the Betar marching band. Through the movement Bob received both a love and knowledge about Zionism and Jewish history, as well as the qualities of respect, loyalty and Hadar that stood him in good stead all his life.

Bob Shteinman’s experience of war was thankfully benign, certainly when compared to that of his generation in most other parts of the world – including China. Bob, then a worldly youth, set fire to a German newspaper publisher that identified itself by hanging Nazi swastika flags on its outside.  Apprehended by the police , Bob was released into the care of his exasperated father. A generation later his children would refer to him as the “Torch of Tientsin”.

Following the retreat of the Japanese many US servicemen visited Tientsin, and the Jewish soldiers among them were surprised and delighted to accept Shteinman hospitality in that remote corner, as Zina would open the house to feed and entertain them. Bob greatly enjoyed the company of these older Jewish Americans and as a consequence of spending so much time with them Bob spoke with an American accent for the rest of his life.

Then came the civil war between the Chinese Communist and Nationalists. Again, there was little impact on foreigners at first, although Bob had amazing stories of being stranded in a train with his parents for a couple of days on the way to summer holidays at the coast, stuck in crossfire between warring militias. On another occasion, he was in the cinema, which he loved to attend, where in the climax of the British war movie Gunga Din, machine gunfire from the dress circle felled people sitting three rows ahead of him.

Eventually the communists got the upper hand, and it was clearly time to leave. In 1947, at the age of eighteen, Bob travelled ahead of his parents to Australia, accompanying family friends Joe and Harry Triguboff. As soon as he was settled in Sydney Bob completed his matriculation and began studying Chemistry at the University of Sydney.

Bob became the first Betar Mefaked (leader) in New South Wales under the auspices of the founder of Betar in Sydney, Hans Dreyer. Already steeped in Betar knowledge and traditions from his time in China, Bob was able to effectively build and lead the movement. His chanichim from that time hold in him in very high esteem. Many had escaped Europe and lost their family, or were child survivors of the Holocaust, and this lean and confident leader, exuding a deep sense of pride and Zionist fervour, was of great comfort and inspiration.

One chanich now living in Israel, Danny Rosing wrote on hearing of Bob’s passing:

  “His charm, enthusiasm and warm personality was infectious
and influenced all of us who grew up in Betar under his guidance.”

In that emotional era surrounding the establishment of Israel not all parts of the Jewish community were welcoming of Betar, but Bob and Hans were confident in their beliefs. Notwithstanding his strongly held ideological views, Bob always maintained friendships and cordial relations with those from the other side of the political spectrum. Indeed, some are here today. 

Bob’s father Lazar established one of Sydney’s first army disposal stores in Sydney in the Haymarket area. Bob was a first rate salesman. Customers seeking nothing more than a belt would walk out overloaded with a full set of camping gear, and more. As Russian Jewish émigrés from China arrived Lazar would find employment for them, and with Bob, would teach them the business. They would then set up their own disposal stores around the corner, such that the Chinatown/Haymarket area became known for its cluster of army disposal stores. Bob used to refer to the shop as the “University of Dispozology”. Lazar was generous in this way and taught Bob that one’s “name” - as in “reputation” - was everything. Bob lived his life by that wisdom and made certain that his children absorbed the same vital lesson.

By 1955 Bob had saved enough to travel the world for an extended period. He  spent a year in Israel, including work at the Haifa Oil Refinery, and then toured Europe for months on a Vespa motorcycle.

After returning to Australia, and an active social life, he met and married Diane Mahemoff, a Melbourne girl. They met in Surfers Paradise where Bob had charmed Diane’s grandmother with his proficiency in Russian.

Bob spent some time in the cardboard box manufacturing industry before he began developing properties, starting with apartment blocks and then building nursing homes. 

Bob enjoyed life immensely, and he was an eminently practical man who enjoyed skiing and boating, and built a boat with his own hands. His younger cousin David Gorovic remembers arriving in Australia with his widowed mother in the early 1960s, to be taken under Bob’s wing. The two cousins would drive around in Bob’s big green Chevrolet, singing stirring Russian songs as they visited construction sites. 

Bob had a slight resemblance to Gregory Peck which, combined with his American accent, led to funny incidents . On one occasion the waitresses in a Japanese restaurant could not supress nervous giggles as they served a gentleman they thought was the star of Roman Holiday, right here in Sydney.

Demonstrating independence, even from the mainstream lifestyle of Sydney Jewry, Bob and Diane built a dream house on a “difficult” site in Castlecrag, deep in the nature of the lower North Shore. By this time they were the parents of David, and as Jonathan and Ruth arrived, the house plan was expanded.

Given the family’s commitment to Jewish life and Zionism, the issue of the children’s education was brewing. Along with a handful of pioneering families they resolved to establish the North Shore’s first Jewish day school. When it came time to name the school there was a tendency towards commemorating a significant Anglo-Jewish personality. Bob insisted on a connection to Israel. This was 1965, prior to the Six Day War and not many people had heard of, let alone visited the recent excavations at Masada. Bob considered the story of the defiant stronghold inspiring and appropriate for a school. By amazing coincidence, in the week that the founders were to name the school, the Daily Mirror’s weekly historical feature was the story of the Jewish heroism that is the story of Masada. Bob brought a copy for each Board member and the matter was settled. Today, in its fifth decade, Masada boasts an enrolment of over 500, and an estimable academic profile. 

Bob’s own family, of course, were in the first wave of Masada children. Each in their own individual way, David, Jonathan and Ruth are fortified by aspects of their father’s character: his mental agility and burning curiosity for knowledge, his pragmatic resolve, his wry humour and talent for cutting to the core of a problem in order to defeat it. They, in turn, have with their partners nurtured a new generation of young people of whom Bob was proud. And the tribe increases yet.

With Masada firmly established Bob continued his Zionist activities as secretary and treasurer of the United Zionist Revisionist Organisation which later became the Friends of Herut and then Friends of Likud associations. He staged memorable Yiddish movie screenings at the historic Wintergarden Cinema in Rose Bay, amongst other venues, to raise funds for the cause. He ably supported and encouraged Diane in her many activities, which spanned from involvement with Masada to a position as head of the Soviet Jewry Campaign, roles with WIZO and the Jewish Communal Appeal,  and eventually a term as President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

In 1976, as many of you are aware, Bob was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The disease initially had little tangible effect; it was a very slow degenerative process. Bob sought advice and treatment as far afield as New York State’s famous Mayo Clinic and health resorts in Romania. To escape the enervating Australian summers he would take three month sojourns in Crete.

Bob continued to work, running his nursing homes, and even skiing and travelling, but by the late eighties his mobility was very affected. Bob was stoic throughout, even when his debilitation advanced. To the constant amazement of those around him Bob never, ever complained – not a single utterance of self-pity. He was lovingly cared for by his wife Diane and in due course carers were brought in.

Under the ministrations of a dedicated team Bob enjoyed the company of his children and ever expanding number of grandchildren. Not only did Bob live to the age of 80, celebrating his birthday in July this year on three separate occasions, but he and Diane were able to commemorate their half century together. The medical marvel of Bob’s long life is a testament to his strength of character and body, and to the care, love and devotion of his family and careers. His family offer their appreciation to Watson and Liu, who are here today.

Greatest credit, of course, must go to Diane Shteinman who devoted so much of her life to Bob’s care, especially in the last 30 yeas. She did this also stoically, never complaining and ever innovative in seeking to maintain Bob’s comfort and  dignity.

It gives us pause to think that Bob outlived nearly every one of his peers from his earlier life, except those who emigrated to Israel.

Bob's legacy is a life that embodied that triumphant declaration of Jabotinsky: “A Jew is a prince!” 

Bob was always true to the principles of Hadar -Jewish nobility and self respect - honouring others, especially his parents and the elderly. He adhered to principles, no matter the cost. 

Those of us who love him will always remember his wry sense of humour, and his love of action and adventure. 

And let us not forget his deep and lifelong love for Israel. 

These legacies have certainly been passed on to his children and grandchildren.

Death Notice

October 29, 2009

Passed away peacefully at home in Castlecrag. Beloved husband of Diane, adored father of David, Jonathan and Ruth.
Loving father-in-law of Kirsten, Claire and Ian. Cherished grandfather of Eva, Hannah, Zev, Bart, Rebecca, Joe and Lena.
Patient sufferer at rest.

The relatives and friends of the late BOB SHTEINMAN are invited to attend his funeral to leave the Chevra Kadisha Memorial Hall, 172 Oxford Street, Woollahra, tomorrow Sunday (November 1, 2009), after a service to commence at 10.30 a.m. for the Jewish Cemetery Rookwood.
Bob Shteinman