Home Perspectives Katz: A Tribute to Jonathan Lax

Katz: A Tribute to Jonathan Lax

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(Eitan Katz photo)

Jonathan Lax — Yonatan Tuvia in Hebrew — died suddenly and tragically on the morning of Tuesday, August 28th, 2018. In an all-too-brief but jam-packed 28 years, Jonny accomplished so much, and made a lasting impact on his family, friends, and community. Those who knew Jonny miss him with an indescribable yearning. However, it is the way in which he lived his life that taught so much to so many, and it is those “Jonny Values” that I want to share with you today.

Jonny was extremely close with his family. As the oldest of four children, he was the protector, advocate, and role model for his best friend and brother, Ethan, and his two loving sisters, Amanda and Rebecca. He developed deep, meaningful, and loving relationships with friends from different walks of life: from growing up in Toronto, to his years away from home in Israel and New York City, and again when he moved back to Toronto to begin the adult chapters of his life.

I feel blessed and lucky to have known Jonny as I did.

For two years, from 2010 to 2012, Jonny and I were roommates at Yeshiva University. We quickly gained an appreciation for each other’s strengths and embraced each other’s weaknesses. We found we had much in common: our odd quirks, our strange sense of humor, our social anxieties, our love of female vocals and electronic music, our obsession with cereal and Snapple, and our need to play video games into the wee hours of the morning. We were both blessed (cursed?) with the creativity and imagination to discuss things or ideas that didn’t actually exist in such absurd detail it was as if they were sitting right there in front of us.

We were best friends, and we were inseparable.

From morning to night for 24 months, we talked, laughed, cried, sang, danced, made fools of ourselves, made promises, and shared bold predictions about our futures: the places we’d go, the company we’d keep, the fun we’d have, and the impact we’d make.

We built each other up. At a time when we were both struggling to find ourselves, we made each other feel good about the people we were and the people we were trying to become. As friends, we professed our love for each other often, and we meant it.

In two years, Jonny never once said something to make me feel bad, nervous, anxious or self-conscious. He wanted me to be confident in myself. He wanted everyone in his life to feel loved, to feel like they belonged, to feel like they were special, to feel like their hopes and dreams were in fact their destiny.

We need more people like Jonny. We need to lift people up, encourage them, and do it in a way that is genuine and meaningful. Why do we so often strive to tear people down? To make them feel worthless, stupid, anxious, or excluded?

Jonny had no ego. In his 28 years on this earth, he concentrated his energy on those he loved — bringing them joy and laughter, and showing them affection, kindness, and generosity.

One of the first times Jonny and I really talked, he enthusiastically told me about his family’s amazing housekeeper, Lita, and how integral she was to his childhood and his home. He went on to tell me about his youngest sibling, Rebecca. He described her as being so smart and motivated, and mature beyond her years in a way that made Jonny so proud. He told me about his sister Amanda — he felt so lucky to have such a close and loving relationship with her, and was always so excited to see her when he went home. As for Ethan, his reputation somewhat preceded him. He was Jonny’s younger, but somehow taller brother. He was also Jonny’s best friend and confidant. Wherever Jonny went, so went Ethan. In fact, after Jonny moved back to Canada, I ended up rooming with Ethan for three years and building a similarly strong, loving, and brotherly relationship with him, both on his own merit, and because he had clearly inherited many of the same traits that I loved so much about his older brother.

I remember visiting Jonny in Toronto at some point during our stint at Yeshiva University. Throughout the weekend, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was at home. His family is so loving — his mother, Marsha, gave him huge hugs and kisses, and was clearly the emotional center of the Lax family. So much of Jonny’s emotional intelligence and ability to express love came from his mother and sisters. His father, Michael, reminded me so much of my own father — calm, collected, sharp, funny, confident. Michael is a loving, attentive father while also being a cornerstone of the Toronto Jewish community. He was Jonny’s role model. His idol. So much of Jonny’s personality, demeanour, sense of humour, and intelligence came from his father.

In terms Jonny and I may have joked about once, I’d say Jonny was a Marsha-Michael remix; they were the yin and yang of his core tendencies and motivations, his behaviour and his aspirations.

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And then there were his friends: Aryeh, Shragee, Eli, Noam, Jesse, Chaim…I can’t list them all, but each of them was deeply influential in Jonny’s life, and they too were lucky to be the recipients of Jonny’s love, empathy, sense of humor, sense of adventure, and friendship. I won’t speak on their behalf, but I will say as someone who was practically attached to Jonny’s hip for two years, his “boys” meant the world to him. Jonny LOVED his friends. He loved hosting them at our apartment or his house, he loved joking and laughing hysterically with them, he just loved spending time with them. Often in the face of tragedy people realize how important it is to spend more time with the people we love, but this was something Jonny did all along. It was an innate part of who he was. Between his family and his close friends, Jonny spent most of his short time in this world with the people he loved, building and nurturing incredible relationships and creating everlasting memories through intimate, shared experiences. He didn’t waste his time here, and all that effort and all those experiences ensure that those who loved Jonny will carry a piece of him in their hearts and minds, forever.

Almost every memory I have with Jonny makes me laugh, even now. He was the funniest person I’ve ever met. It wouldn’t be abnormal for our roommates, Aryeh and Noam, to walk into our apartment and find me keeled over, laughing uncontrollably and gasping for breath on the couch, as Jonny stood in the middle of the room putting on a hilarious performance complete with multiple characters, voices, sound effects, and faces.

Jonny was a genius, too. Just brilliant. Super creative and talented. He could put on a hysterical, multi-faceted storytelling performance, talk intelligently about the legitimacy of different scholarly perspectives on theology and science, and then compose an entire song all in a single night.

He had a lot of wisdom and a lot of opinions. He loved to read and he was super-curious. If you asked him something he didn’t know, he would spend hours learning all about it, and would be prepared to talk about it the next time you spoke. He taught me so much. And not just Wikipedia-style knowledge — he opened my mind up to different ways of thinking, behaving, and approaching problems. The very core of who I am today is the result of the time I spent with Jonny, and I’ll forever be grateful for that.

Of course, not everything we did was so smart. But damnit, it was fun as hell and I’m so glad we did it.

There was the time Jonny bought Ninja Stars and we spent weeks honing our combat skills by whipping them across the room at an empty pizza box — it was only later we realized they went through the pizza box and left the wall looking like it was a prop in a horror movie. I’ll also never forget when Jonny bought a military-grade laser pointer. This thing was INSANE. He showed me videos of it before it arrived — it could light a cigarette from 40 feet away. 40 feet! When it showed up, the first thing we did was burn a hole in our garbage can to test its potency (it worked). Later, we went to the roof of our building overlooking the city and watched in awe as the beam stretched all the way to the Empire State Building. Again, not our finest moment, but it’s something so uniquely Jonny that I want to share it, so I can remember it forever.

Even though Jonny was over six-feet tall, handsome as the devil, toned, athletic, and armed with super-human strength, he was actually just a big, cuddly teddy bear. A curious and loving child trapped inside a star quarterback’s body. And he got along so well with kids. I remember when he came to visit my family in Boston, he met my nephew Amiel, who was two years old at the time. By the end of a long weekend of them getting acquainted and playing hide and seek, Jonny had jokingly convinced Amiel that he was his father, constantly referring to him as “my son.” For years after that weekend, Jonny would randomly ask me, “How’s my son?” I thought it was hilarious every time.

Being the big teddy bear he was, Jonny gave great hugs. Kids loved him and he loved them back. I’d say that almost everyone who met Jonny fell in love with him in some sense. It was hard not to. He was magnetic. He was always the life of the party even though he really, really didn’t want to be or intend to be. Despite all of the advantages he had in his life, he never looked down on other people, and he never lorded his good looks or status over anyone else. It wasn’t just that he was a good person — he was humble, almost to a fault.

Those Jonny Values came through in Jonny’s every move. The way he behaved, the way he spoke, and even the way he thought about other people — he truly had a heart of gold. The lessons he taught me are swirling around in my head, and I hope that by sharing my interpretation of them with you, we can both put our best foot forward and honor my amazing friend Yonatan Tuvia until we’re all reunited again in the world to come.

  1. Treat other people with kindness, empathy, and respect. No matter what. Remember, we’re all people, we all matter, and we’re all going through this often cruel but always beautiful world together.
  2. Love your friends and your family. That means making time for them, listening to them, being there for them, protecting them, and being loyal to them at all costs. They’re all you have.
  3. Build people up, don’t tear them down. We all have our anxieties, our quirks, our weird side. Making other people feel good about themselves is a superpower — use it as often as you can.
  4. Be authentic. Stop pretending. Be yourself. I once read that the thing people on their death-beds most regret is that they lived the life expected of them instead of a life true to themselves.

Jonny lived a life true to himself. He was sincere. He was my friend, my teacher, and my guide. My therapist and trusted advisor. He was my partner in crime. And for a long time, he was the last person I saw before I went to sleep and the first person I saw when I woke up.

Jonny was my brother.

And I really miss my brother.

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