Grace Dean was clear this morning.
“Let’s just focus on Jonathan,” she said. “My feelings don’t count.”
Jonathan was four weeks away from 26 and three weeks from coming home. He was a staff sergeant in a group of Israeli soldiers, clearing a mosque in Gaza, when the terrorists blew it up.
“I tell you,” Grace said, “the worst thing is to have two men in uniform walk up to your front door.”
They were officers of the Israeli Defense Forces, come up from New York City, to tell her the news.
“Jonathan died a hero,” she said. “That’s what they told me.
“They said there are people alive today because he is not.”
Jonathan Dean Jr. died saving others. That’s probably how he would have wanted it.
He grew up in Hilton, one of five children. Always kind, always trying to help, always the peacemaker. While a high school student at Cornerstone Christian Academy, he placed red bins around the village, collecting coats and blankets which he bundled up for the Open Door Mission, the Veterans Outreach Center and the Willow Domestic Violence Center.
It was at Cornerstone that he started learning Hebrew, which led ultimately to his conversion to Judaism and his dual citizenship in Israel. He learned Spanish as well, studying it as part of his bachelor’s program at SUNY Brockport, living in Mexico for a time to learn the culture.
Hoping to help friends, he learned American Sign Language to interpret for them at doctor’s appointments.
And he decided to get a master’s degree in Israel, at the University of Tel Aviv, in emergency and disaster management. When he graduated, he joined the IDF, and had three weeks left in his enlistment. He would have been home in the New Year, to go back to school in Rochester, to certify as an ASL medical translator.
But that won’t happen now.
“I prayed so hard for him to come home,” Jonathan’s mother said. “I was so afraid.
“But I’m not going to question God. I’m just going to try to stay strong.
“I asked, just don’t let him suffer, and don’t let him be captured. And I guess God answered my prayer.”
Jonathan was honored in Israel yesterday; any local memorials will be private, for fear of political disruption or protest.
And because the family needs privacy.
“I don’t want to offend the reporters,” Grace Dean said, “we appreciate them, and their interest. But we need our privacy. Our phone is ringing off the hook.”
Local reporters, national reporters, Israeli reporters. All well intentioned, all too much. All more than the family right now can bear.
And they need some space.
“Everyone who is coming is crying,” she said. “I’m comforting them. But it’s hard. I tell them, every tear you are shedding is a sign of your love. His father and I appreciate your tears.”
But they need some space.
“Please stop looking for family. Please, for now, just leave us alone.”
She doesn’t say it angrily or with bitterness, but as a simple, fatigued, request.
And what she wants people to know is that her son was a special young man. That he had an intellect and a loving spirit that were unique. Things came easily to him, and he used that talent to serve and bless others.
Ultimately at the cost of his life.
Jonathan Dean left a will, and private letters for each of his relatives, in case he didn’t come home. He asked that in lieu of flowers, that donations be made to the Leukemia Society, in honor of his beloved Uncle Rich, who died of the disease.
That’s what Grace Dean said this morning, calling a reporter to call off the reporters.
“I prayed for him to come home, but God said no,” she said. “Somehow, I was prepared for this.
“So far, I am holding together.
“There will be a time for me to fall apart, but this is not that time.”