Yonathan Avrech, a shaliach to the North Shore from 1980-1983, passed away on June 24 after a courageous four-year battle against cancer. In 1980, when my husband Jerry and I were preparing to go to Israel for our son Adam’s bar mitzvah, someone suggested that we contact Yonathan. Not only did we receive advice about Israel, but that call was the beginning of a life-long friendship. Meeting Yonathan, his wife Smadar, and their four children impacted our lives and the lives of so many North Shore people.
Yonathan brought great enthusiasm and commitment to all aspects of his life. He and his family were the pillars of Kibbutz Yagur, a large kibbutz near Haifa. Serving in many administrative roles in the kibbutz and its factories, Yonathan was the embodiment of the kibbutz philosophy. As a soldier, he served his country with distinction. During the Yom Kippur War, his iconic photograph called The Eyes of War was on the cover of the European edition of Newsweek.
Sent here to bring the Israeli culture to the North Shore, he took his mission very seriously. Warm, charismatic and handsome, Yonathan became an instant success. When his beautiful wife Smadar and their four children Ariel, Igar, Merov and Maayan arrived, people of all ages instantly became enamored by this amazing family.
Yonathan immediately started organizing the community with many programs designed to bring Israeli culture to this area, including elaborate Israeli Independence Day celebrations that included famous Israeli singers and fabulous fun-filled family celebrations complete with camel rides and hot air balloons. Smadar, a gourmet cook, opened the Avrech home to the community. It was a treat to be invited for Shabbat dinners featuring her delicious Israeli food.
Each summer Yonathan led scores of teens on six-week Y2I Israeli trips that included experiencing kibbutz life as well as touring Israel. During these trips Yonathan shared his passion for Israel and Zionism, kindling a lasting love in the teenagers. When the Avrechs were ready to return to their home, their friends gave them a beautiful grandfather clock which became one of their prized possessions.
After returning to Israel, Smadar and Yonathan kept close contact with us and their North Shore friends. Yonathan traveled around the world promoting the kibbutz factories’ products. He also fell in love with running and ran marathons well into his 70s. Smadar’s passing in 2011 was extremely difficult for Yonathan and everyone who loved her.
Weeks before his death, Yonathan received a special gift from his son Igar. When Igar was told that he was being promoted to the rank of colonel, he asked the army if the ceremony could take place at his father’s bedside. Aviv Kohavi, Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, came to the kibbutz and during the ceremony for Igar he thanked Yonathan, his children and grandchildren for their exemplary service. He spoke about The Eyes of War photo in a bittersweet ceremony that we were privileged to watch on Zoom.
Yonathan left a lasting legacy on the North Shore. We were privileged to have him as our beloved friend.