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Fitness director at Jewish center in Jacksonville dies in kayaking accident

Adam Chaskin, CEO of the Jewish Community Alliance, told JNS that Eiffel Gilyana was “an incredible human being.”

Eiffel Gilyana
Eiffel Gilyana. Credit: Courtesy.

The search for Eiffel Gilyana, an acclaimed athlete and leader at a Florida Jewish center who disappeared during a kayaking trip, has ended with the discovery of his body seven miles from where he went missing last week.

Eiffel Gilyana worked as the fitness and wellness director since 2009 for the Jewish Community Alliance (JCA) in Jacksonville, Fla.

On Saturday, he participated in a kayaking trip to nearby St. Augustine with Task Force Hydro1, a nonprofit that brings together veterans, active military and first responders “united by a shared commitment to address mental health and foster emotional healing through water-based activities.” Gilyana served as Health and Wellness Advisor to the organization.

The group lost track of Gilyana and soon discovered his kayak had split in two, prompting a 90-hour search by the U.S. Coast Guard. His body was found on Tuesday.

Eiffel Gilyana
Eiffel Gilyana. Credit: Courtesy.

“Eiffel was an incredible human being,” JCA CEO Adam Chaskin told JNS. “Eiffel had a huge heart and was a very caring man. He would offer help to anyone and do what others might think is above and beyond to help people. But for Eiffel, it was normal and what he thought everyone should do.”

Gilyana, a father of three and nationally ranked bodybuilder, was an Iraqi Christian. He served as a translator for the U.S. Army’s Special Forces Division from 2003 to 2009.

“He loved his family very much and worked tirelessly to make a great home for them in the U.S.,” Chaskin said.

In a nearly 15-year career at JCA, Chaskin said Gilyana “literally helped thousands of people achieve a healthier lifestyle.”

“He was not just someone who worked there; he quickly became part of your family,” said Chaskin. “There is no replacing him, and he will be sorely missed. Although we know we must go on, it will be very difficult not having his incredible smile and energy with us every day.”

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