Those We Have Lost

Staff Sgt. Yonatan Chaim, 25: Lone soldier who converted, made aliyah

Killed fighting in southern Gaza on December 8

Staff Sgt. Yonatan Chaim who was killed in Gaza on December 8. (IDF)
Staff Sgt. Yonatan Chaim who was killed in Gaza on December 8. (IDF)

Staff Sgt. Yonatan Chaim, 25, of the Combat Engineering Corps’ 603rd Battalion, was killed fighting in south Gaza on December 8.

Chaim, a resident of Ramat Gan, was originally from Hilton, New York, and was born Jonathan Dean Jr. He converted to Judaism after studying the Holocaust in college, and in 2020 decided to move to Israel, friends said.

He will be laid to rest in the United States.

Nefesh B’Nefesh wrote that Chaim “volunteered to join the IDF and drafted at 23. He was persistent and dedicated when it came to his goals.”

Before enlisting he studied at Tel Aviv University, receiving a master’s degree in disaster management. The department described him as “a passionate student.” His final paper focused on the deaf community during the COVID-19 pandemic and its difficulties in communicating when masks were widely used. “He was a good friend of his classmates. His lively personality was a beacon of light in the classroom and will surely be missed,” said the department.

His mother, Grace Dean, wrote on Facebook: “Rest in Peace Jonathan. You could not have been loved more.” She and many others who knew him attributed to him the following quote: “Never stop loving. We do not fight because we hate, but because we have such a love in our heart for life.”

Dean described her son as “an adventurous, brave, compassionate and caring young man. I find solace that he is now in the company of his beloved grandparents and Uncle Rich. Jonathan loved orange tulips and I ask you to plant some orange tulips to honor his young and beautiful life.”

His cousin, Joelle Marie Muscolino, described him as “sweet, amazing, loving, smart, caring, talented, passionate, uniquely fabulous.”

She said that he had “lived in Israel for a bunch of years now and had made it his home, a home where he was loved and celebrated for everything that he was, without judgement, to live freely and happily as Yonatan Chaim, just as his loving heart, soul, and body so deserved to. He was truly happy, and for that I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to witness.”

She said that he “felt compelled to protect Israel, the land who had given him so much, from the brutality of the terrorist, evil, savage attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihadists. He died bravely fighting to defend Israel’s Democracy, the Jewish People that call her home just like he did, and for Judaism around the entire world.”

Chaim received support from the Ach Gadol (Big Brother) organization for lone soldiers, which helps them navigate the IDF. He was assisted there by Adah Forer, who said they bonded since they were both from the US and both enlisted at age 23.

“From our first meeting I got to know the kind of guy who eats a whole chicken at 5 a.m., and since then I helped him with everything to do with the army, it was a privilege to accompany him and I wish I could keep doing it,” said Forer.

“Yonatan was a guy with a huge heart, always wanted to help everyone around him and put everyone ahead of himself… He was a light for everyone, it was part of who he was, even the fact that he chose Judaism — he wanted to be part of something bigger than himself,” said Forer.

Read more Those We Have Lost stories here. 

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