At the end of his life, as Jonathan Kaminsky lay in hospice care, he called to his brother, David.
Jonathan could hardly speak, so David knelt by his side to better hear his brother’s words.
“Just kidding,” whispered Jonathan.
Shortly afterward, on Nov. 27, Jonathan, a former Minnesota journalist who traveled the world telling people’s stories, succumbed to cancer at 38. He left behind his wife, Sarah Koster, and two sons: 3-year-old Elliot and 6-year-old Adam. He was too young to die, but his loved ones took comfort in knowing he was himself to the very end — the kind of guy who would not let a little thing like dying prevent him from making a good joke.
“He was one of a kind,” said his friend Ben Polk.
Kaminsky despised bullies, so investigative journalism was a natural career choice. While earning his master’s degree from the University of California-Berkeley, he exposed a traveling Donald Trump-linked seminar that failed to deliver on promises to make attendees rich on government fat for a $1,000 “membership” fee. Later, as a reporter for City Pages, he wrote about controversies over taconite mining in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a south Minneapolis slumlord who subjected low-income tenants to inhumane living conditions and a child-abusing priest who got away with his crimes for decades. His journalistic appetite eventually took him to Olympia, Wash., where he covered politics for the Associated Press, and to New Orleans for a job with Reuters.
Kaminsky was a world traveler — counting Sweden, Palau, Madagascar, Massachusetts, Washington state and New York among his many homes. He was a storyteller, sports fan, music lover, songwriter and expert Ping-Pong player. Many will remember him best for his rich — and occasionally grim — sense of humor.
He was a curmudgeon. Wearing his baggy sweaters, with shaggy hair and frequently holding a lime gimlet, he walked around this world with a mischievous smirk, like an inside joke was playing out in his head that he couldn’t wait to bring others in on. He was an incredible teller of jokes, and he never told one exactly the same way twice. He relished the details more than the punchline. He turned the joke over — as his friend David Roth said, polished it “like a diamond” — equal parts passionate and detached, pushing its potential. It was with this same curiosity and confidence he approached so many things in life, including his work and relationships.
Above all, Kaminsky loved his family. He wrote songs for Sarah and his sons. He would spend hours at the Minnesota State Fair midway winning them extravagant prizes (even if they would never fit in their luggage on the plane trip home). He tried to instill in his kids all the qualities he so valued — generosity, groundedness and the value of finding joy in art, music and games.
Kaminsky was also a realist, and he knew life was often not fair. This truth became too clear when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in his 30s. But even then, he did not waver or dread, recalled Daniel May, a friend since childhood.
“He faced it with extreme clarity,” said May. “He was angry about it, but he wasn’t afraid.”
A memorial service was held Dec. 1 in Brookline, Mass. In addition to his wife and sons, he is survived by his parents, Amy and Ken; his brother, David, and his grandmother, Florence.