The frum world was shocked to learn about the petirah of Reb Yona Tzvi Kohn at the age of 46 in a tragic car accident Monday.
Reb Yona Tzvi, or Yoni as he was affectionately known, was a pillar of tzedakah and chesed for many in need, always helping without any pomp or fanfare.
Yoni was member of the prominent Kohn family of Chicago, a son of Dr. Arthur and Charlotte Kohn.
Yoni lived in Lakewood with his family before moving to Highland Park, New Jersey about 10 years ago, and then to Chicago about six years later. Yoni transformed every community he was a part of, working tirelessly on behalf of those in need, and assisting them financially and in any other way he could.
He would often donate large sums of money towards tzedakah projects, though most people were never aware of it.
“He was a secret baal chesed,” a family friend relates. “I personally know of so many people who were completely lost and destitute, and Yoni stepped in to help them without anyone being aware.”
A number of years ago, he rededicated and renovated the Bostoner shtiebel in Edison, under the auspices of Rav Mechel Horowitz. Later, when the need arose, he used his own funds to pay off the shul’s mortgage.
When he resided in Highland Park, he was bothered that there was no Bikur Cholim house at the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. Yoni, together with Rav Mechel Horowitz, Mr. Eddie Lowinger and Mr. Jonathan Rosenberg, purchased a property and created a 5-bedroom Chaim V’Chesed house. The beautiful facility is meticulously kept up by the Kohn family, and even after their move to Chicago, bookings are still being done by the Kohns.
“Often, that house is filled to capacity by families coming from Lakewood or elsewhere,” a community member shared. “Beautifully furnished and always stocked, another way Yoni was able to give people comfort in a magnanimous, but quiet way.”
Yoni, together with his close chaveirim Avi Shick and Yitzchok Lieblich, was a board member at Edison’s Yeshiva Shaarei Tzion, under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. Yossi Stern. He supported the yeshiva financially, but never offered his opinion.
“That was the beauty of Yoni,” a member of the Edison/Highland Park community shares. “He felt that his place was to support the mosad and not to offer educational input. There were no strings attached to his financial support.”
During Hurricane Sandy, when so many people were suffering, Yoni stepped up and took initiative. He purchased generators for those who needed them, sponsored HVAC systems for people who lost them, and bought hundreds of gallons of fuel, which he delivered to the hard hit areas of Far Rockaway.
“He felt that it was awful that Hatzalah ambulances and emergency vehicles didn’t have fuel,” a friend noted. “So, he put a gas tank on one of his construction trucks and sent the truck back and forth from Pennsylvania to Far Rockaway, nonstop, supplying fuel for Hatzalah and for people to refill their generators.”
Yoni also made himself available for people seeking business advice and was always willing to guide those who needed direction.
He had a very powerful presence, but nobody ever felt intimidated by him. He had a way of making everyone feel comfortable.
“I was zoche to be his partner for 25 years,” Rabbi Yitzchok Rokowsky, who was a partner with Yoni in Tryko, said at the levaya. “In all the years, there was never even a shemetz (hint) of a machlokes.”
Yoni maintained a close relationship with rabbonim and roshei yeshiva, and he would meticulously follow their direction at every juncture of life.
“He was very close to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, and he would consult with him on a regular basis,” a friend shares. “He spoke to him before moving to Highland Park, and again before moving to Chicago. He also had a strong bond with the roshei yeshiva of Telz Chicago, and with the roshei yeshiva of the Philadelphia yeshiva.”
Yoni owned a jet and was a pilot, and he personally flew for chesed causes many times, including flying many niftarim to kevurah.
“My father would take the shirt off of his back for anyone, anywhere,” his son, Avrohom Moshe, said at the levaya. “Once, my father was already in bed, when he got a call. There was a family who found out that their son was in an accident and they needed to get to that location. My father could have said, what do you want from me, get a [commercial] flight. But that was not my father. He got out of bed and brought them himself.”
He was returning from South Haven, Michigan, where he had spent yom tov with his family, when he was involved in a fatal car crash. He leaves behind his wife, Sarita, and five children.
Levayos were held in Chicago and in Newark, with kevurah in Eretz Yisroel.
“He would help out the small people, who no one really knew about,” a friend said. “His loss leaves such a gaping void in our communities, and nobody will ever really understand the extent of the loss. As much as we may find out about, as much as can possibly be written about him, there is so much more that we will never know.”
Yehi zichro boruch.