‘He treated everybody like his best friend’: British-Israeli family mourns loss of IDF paratrooper

34-year-old killed in Gaza is remembered for his passionate devotion to Israel and its people


vA British-Israeli family is mourning the loss of paratrooper Sgt-Major Jonathan Deitch, 34, who was killed by a sniper in a firefight in Khan Yunis on 7 December. Jonathan’s father, Leonard, is from Manchester and his mother, Karen, from London.

Everyone who knew British-Israeli paratrooper Jonathan Deitch fondly remembers the slogan he always repeated: “יהיה בסדר”, or “Everything will be alright”.

Sgt. Maj. (res.) Jonathan, 34, a paratrooper of the 55th Brigade’s 6623rd Reconnaissance Battalion, was killed by a sniper in southern Gaza on December 7, and his family have slowly been coming to grips with the impossible loss.

“We gave our son to the army, and he’s not come back,” Karen Deitch, Jonathan’s mother, told the JC.

Born in Tel Aviv to British parents Karen and Leonard, Jonathan and his two sisters spent every summer in the UK. But after Jonathan first joined the IDF in 2007 with four of his close friends, he devoted himself to protecting Israel and its people.

On October 7, Karen’s family was in Malta celebrating her mother’s 90th birthday when they received news of the attacks in Israel. Jonathan was immediately desperate to return home but flights from Malta were cancelled, so he flew back to London first. On the following Thursday he managed to get on a flight to Israel and, by Friday afternoon, he had rejoined the army.

“He couldn’t not come back,” Karen said. “He couldn’t not protect his country. He said, ‘If I don’t do it, who is going to do it?’”

The rest of the family flew to England and returned to Israel a few weeks later. Their contact with Jonathan was intermittent following his resumption of service, and on occasion there were stretches of time when they didn’t hear from him.

The Saturday before his death, Jonathan was granted a few hours off, and his family came down to the base to visit him. On Sunday, Karen said she and Leonard received a call from Jonathan telling them he wouldn’t be able to reach them “for quite a while” because his brigade was entering Gaza for what he said could be a long time.

Before he left, Jonathan filmed himself saying “good morning” and “have a good day” for his son to watch while he was gone. In the video, he told his son: “I’m going on a small trip with my friends now, and I love you”.

When he was killed by gunfire on that Thursday, Jonathan’s four close friends were with him.

“When we were organising the funeral the first thing we said is we’re not doing the funeral until his friends, the four of them, are brought out [of service] to carry the coffin, because we wanted them to have closure,” Karen said.

The funeral on December 10 was attended by a huge crowd, evidence of the high esteem Jonathan was held in by those who knew him: “Everyone thought that he was their best friend,” Karen said. “He treated everybody like he was their best friend.”

At the shivah, everyone Karen met told the same story of her son: “He was always smiling, always optimistic, and he would talk to everybody.”

Friends, relatives and colleagues also reminisced over the phrase Jonathan had become known for: “everything will be alright”. Stickers with the slogan can be seen all over Israel nowadays, according to Karen.

He is remembered as well for being a loving husband to his wife Moran, with whom he celebrated ten years of marriage in August, and a doting father to his two-year-old son, Ari.

“He was a fantastic father,” Karen said. "That’s the hardest part for us, that there’s a two-year-old child who will grow up without a father.”

Jonathan's sisters, Samantha and Kelly, were “very, very close” with their brother; they were friends as well as siblings. Karen shared an anecdote that illustrated both his sociable nature and his pride in being an older brother: “When I had my third baby, which was nine and a half years [after Jonathan], I remember I got back from the hospital, and he brought the whole class round to have a look at the baby. All thirty of them,” Karen said, laughing.

She described her son as an animal lover and a sporty child who loved surfing and sailing, anything that allowed him to be in the ocean. Jonathan and his sisters were involved in the Sea Scouts and the family is now looking to have a boat named after him.

Following his compulsory service in the IDF, Jonathan worked for the Ministry of Defense in security and, during the last couple of years, he sold operational equipment for podiatric surgeons, working alongside doctors in operating rooms.

As for how the family is coping with the loss, Karen said they have been in a state of disbelief. Jonathan had often been away with the army during the last several months, so his family grew accustomed to his absence. As a result, the weeks since his death have been distorted by a sense of unreality; with the funeral and shivah finally over, his mother said the grieving process is “just starting now”.

The Deitches are remembering a man with a fierce love for his family, and an even fiercer devotion to his nation.

“When it came to it, he chose his country over his family,” Karen said. She recalled one of Jonathan’s colleagues telling her after his passing that, when asked whether he was concerned about leaving his family behind to fight, Jonathan said: “Israel is also my family.”

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