Alameda man is fourth this year to die at Yosemite

After braving the threat of bombs and biological warfare to put down roots in Israel, former Alamedan Richard Benabou died during a recent visit to Yosemite National Park.

The 23-year-old was hiking along Upper Yosemite Falls on Sunday of last week when he decided to cool off by the water. As he was trying to climb away from the edge, he slipped from a slick rock and plunged some 100 feet into the waterfall, said his cousin Isaac Benabou of Alameda, who was not with him.

Benabou's hiking companions — nine friends in all — raced back along the 3.6-mile Yosemite Creek trail for help.

The young man's body was not recovered from the water until hours later. He was the fourth person this year to die in the rugged wilderness park.

Benabou had moved to Tel Aviv two years ago to join an extended family of about 200. Still in Alameda are his parents, Simon and Rachel; sisters Ofra and Natalie; and some 50 cousins, aunts and uncles.

Isaac Benabou explained that while most of the large Benabou family immigrated to Israel from Morocco years ago, there are also many Benabous throughout the United States, Canada, France and Argentina. The Alameda branch, he noted, is very close, "especially our generation."

Richard Benabou was described by Alameda relations as a gregarious and generous individual who lived for world travel and outdoor recreation. Though he had lived mostly in Israel since graduating from high school, the road was his real home.

"He was a free-spirited hippie," said Isaac Benabou. "He didn't worry about where he would stay at night. He would meet someone that day" who would take him in. "People loved him because of his personality."

Richard Benabou was working at the Planet Hollywood in Tel Aviv as a cook before returning to Alameda three weeks ago to see family and work temporarily. His girlfriend from Israel was due to join him from Boston, where she was visiting her family.

"They were going to reunite in the Bay Area, work, then travel to India," Isaac Benabou said.

Another cousin, Izhak "Uzi" Cohen of Alameda, said Benabou had developed spiritual interests while in Israel. During his Alameda visit, the youth told his father that he wanted to study Kabbalah.

Benabou's parents were unavailable for comment. In traditional Moroccan Orthodox style, they were in seclusion for seven days, mourning by prostrating themselves on the floor.

Several relatives mentioned that both Benabou and another relative had dreamed recently of the fatal fall, which may have fueled his spiritual seeking.

Cohen said he would miss his cousin's hug and good-natured demeanor at the family barbecues.

"He is a very nice, nice young man, a good boy," he said. "When you say a nice Jewish boy, this is a nice Jewish boy. He smiles at everybody. He hangs five and tickles kids.

"He was one of the lights. At least he went happy."

Memorial services have been held.

Lori Eppstein

Lori Eppstein is a former staff writer.