Yonadav Levenstein, 23, an Israeli-Canadian who died in battle in Gaza, remembered on Yom ha-Zikaron

This obituary was originally published on Nov. 7, 2023.

Family in Canada and Israel are mourning the death of Yonadav Levenstein, a soldier with the Givati Brigade, who died in battle in northern Gaza. He was 23.

The IDF announced his death on Nov. 4.

“He was a very kind, very sweet guy. He was amazing with all of his nieces and nephews,” recalled his cousin, Eli Lesser, in Toronto. “He was very smart, very musical, he played lots of different instruments.”

Levenstein was born and raised in Israel, but he and his family came often to visit their cousins and grandparents in Canada. His mother, Leora, grew up in Montreal and met his late father, Dr. Michael Levenstein, who was from Toronto, in Israel. The family live in Ma’ale Adumim, a suburb of Jerusalem.

The youngest of six children, Levenstein was married just two months ago. He was supposed to have completed his army service in a month, and the newlywed couple had plans to travel around the world, Lesser said.

Yonadav Levenstein at his wedding to Hadar, with his grandmother, Linda Levenstein.

After high school, Levenstein worked on archeologic digs in the City of David (part of the ancient city of Jerusalem).

“He had a lot of talents and strengths… and one of them was certainly history and archeology and the history of Israel,” Lesser said.

His supervisor at the City of David project, Kobi Gur Aryeh, commented on Facebook, “I remember one time there was a task that involved many hours of carrying and physical effort, Yonadav was the first to volunteer, without complaints and without questions, he immediately showed up.

“He was a charm of a guy, we called him ‘Gulliver’, both because of his height—1.95 m—and because he had a huge heart!”

Levenstein was athletic and a good basketball player, as well as a talented musician who played several instruments, Lesser recalled. The family has a video of him doing a rendition of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” simultaneously playing piano and harmonica.

Levenstein reported for combat on Oct. 7 and fought in Kibbutz Nir Oz, in southern Israel, against Hamas, Col. Guy Biton said at his funeral, reported Israel Hayom.

“You were a professional and skilled fighter. You fought bravely with your friends,” Biton said. “You fought (in) Nir Oz against hundreds of terrorists, saving dozens of civilians. Yesterday, you were hit by terrorist fire and fell. Yonadav, the Viking of the cruiser. I promise you that we will restore security to the citizens of Israel.”

Turning to Levenstein’s young widow, Biton said, “Dear Hadar, continue Yonadav’s dream of establishing a Jewish home of values in the Holy Land. There is no consolation in words in the face of the grief and bereavement that has befallen you. The only consolation is that we will defeat our enemies.”

El Natan Levenstein, one of his brothers, also remembered his youngest sibling at his funeral on Nov. 5.

“My little brother, you were a giant in your personality and size. There’s no book you haven’t read and there’s no musical instrument you didn’t know how to play. There is no trail in the country that you have not hiked. You stood out wherever you were,” he said.

El Natan then turned to the ongoing war and addressed the Israeli prime minister and defence minister and said, “This war should be the last. We did not choose this war. The war was forced upon us and it must be ended once and for all. We paid the price. Now it needs to be finished for the fallen and future generations. If you are unable to finish the task, vacate your seat.”