While some knew him as Jonah and others as Mac, we all loved and respected him. And we miss him dearly.

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A Song From the Heart

Dear Jonah,

Yesterday was your yahrzeit. I spent the day sitting quietly at home reflecting on the eight years that have passed without you in them. Well, you’re in them, kid. You’re always in them.

Age 18 (Aug 2008)

Last night, we held the 8th annual concert in celebration of your life. I’m still amazed how powerful these evenings are for me. Part of it is that so many people in attendance want to surround our family with love and support. So while I was ready to just jump in and enjoy the concert, their strong emotions nudged me into a more reflective state than I might otherwise have found myself.

That was okay. More than okay. With your smiling, black-and-white-checked-fedora-topped face on the screens above the performers, you were powerfully present anyway. Again, my visceral response to your photo took me by surprise but that was a fine, comforting way to move through the evening.

The Noah Aronson Band were this year’s musical guests. What a collection of talent! And kind souls too. Noah and his colleagues created a warm, loving ambience that embraced and held us throughout the evening. You’d have really enjoyed it, Jo.

As part of the evening’s unfolding, I wrote two pieces about you. For me, these are always welcome opportunities to share a memory about your life, and to try and draw out a lesson to inspire myself and maybe others in the room.

First, in the concert program, I penned the Dreskin family letter, which included the following:

Age 16 (Oct 2006)

In 2006, we journeyed southward to Charleston, South Carolina, for a family wedding. While there, we visited the City Market, a 200-year-old shopping center, where we chanced upon a vendor selling alpaca rugs. We have a photograph of Jonah (among others) contentedly resting himself atop a deliciously soft pile. Needless to say, he brought one home and, to this day, it rests on the floor next to his bed. Charlie, our dog, is its biggest fan.

Jonah became quite adept at making himself comfortable in the world. And while many would suggest that “he marched to the beat of his own drum,” it was not his comfort alone that Jonah valued. He cared about lots of people. It was evident in the way he befriended others at school, in NFTY, at camp, and in the theater. It was also evident in his growing concern for the stranger. Feeding the homeless, rebuilding houses in Mississippi, and knocking on doors in support of a local candidate, these brought him a contentment that was not dissimilar to the feel of an alpaca rug.

The Annual Jonah Maccabee Concert is a comfort fest, filled with elements that Jonah would have loved. Bringing exciting new music, like The Noah Aronson Band, to Woodlands so that hundreds can enjoy it, this was right up his alley. And raising scholarship funds to help kids get to the URJ summer camps? Yeah, he’d definitely have approved.

Author R.J. Palacio has written, “We should be remembered for the things we do.” Yes, and let us also be remembered by the things that are done in our name. Jonah touched our lives with love, humor and compassion. It feels so right to create new moments inspired by these gifts he so freely shared.

Second, I wrote these words to open the Havdalah ceremony at the start of the evening, and try to set the tone for the concert with another story and teaching from your brief, but remarkable life:

We bid farewell to Shabbat by kindling our first flame in twenty-four hours. It’s our initial step in re-engaging with the world that we stepped back from for our day of rest. I always got a kick out of thinking about Jonah and the 39 categories of work we’re not to do on Shabbat. He could have easily listed 39 categories he wouldn’t ever do. And further, building a fire would have never appeared on his list!

We begin our concert this evening by kindling a flame. Not just because Jonah would have loved it, but because fire is a powerful symbol of engagement with the world and with the sustaining of life. Fire brings light and it brings warmth, two of the most basic gifts we can offer each other. And not just each other, but to others living far beyond our little shtetl of Westchester.

There are so many people throughout the world who are in need – of shelter, of food, of protection, of love. The candle that we light this evening has many flames, reminding us of the many paths to bringing goodness into our world. If each of us travels just one of these paths, look at the light we can create together!

There is a hole in our downstairs bathroom, burned into the formica countertop courtesy of Jonah Maccabee Dreskin. And even though he tried to pin it on his brother Aiden, we did get him to sort of admit to the crime. We could not, however, get him to tell us what actually took place in there. We’re just grateful that our house and our family fared better than that countertop.

But Jonah not only loved playing with fire, he carried inside of him a perpetual flame. He was kind of like a human Havdalah candle, sharing his light and warmth with as many people, both known and unknown to him, as he could. Amazingly enough, through the memories and love for him that continue to this day, and through the acts of goodness he continues to inspire also to this day, his light burns brightly, and we can still feel the warmth of his kind, gentle spirit.

May each of our lives prove to be such a Havdalah.

Your concert was packed this year, Jonah. Well over 200 people filled the sanctuary at Woodlands. Noah Aronson shared some great new Jewish music, and we raised a whole lot of money to help send temple kids whose families simply cannot afford it to participate in Reform Jewish summer programs.

Jewish music and Jewish summers were two of your favorite parts of life. In your absence, but in continued celebration of your life, we now share what you loved with so many others. In this way, you continue to have a profound impact in the world.

Whether the concert happens or not, Jonah, you will always remain a mighty presence in my life. With the concert, you touch other people’s lives in ways you undoubtedly would have done yourself were you still here. In your absence, the efforts of a family that misses you dearly, combined with the labor of an astonishingly caring and dedicated group of volunteers, all make sure you have that effect still.

Love you forever,
Dad

If you’d like to view the video of this year’s concert, visit the Facebook page for Woodlands Community Temple and search for “Noah Aronson’s live video” (via Ctrl-F).

3 Responses to “A Song From the Heart”

  • Leona Paul:

    As always your words touch my heart and bring a tear to my eyes such love never dies it just gets tucked away in a corner of your heart as I well know because I have my own tucking in my heart for my darling Susan who I miss every day of my life
    I wish only good things for the Dreskin family and please keep writing those beautiful words

  • De Herman:

    Dear Dreskin Family,

    I did not have the pleasure nor the honor of knowing Jonah during his brief life, and I’ve only now learned of him through these beautiful letters and through the inspiring recording “So Is LIFE” which is donating all of its proceeds to the Jonah Maccabee Foundation. I am a long-time member of Cantor Rosalie Boxt’s congregation, Temple Emanuel of Kensington, MD, where we paid tribute last weekend to her for 16 years of sharing her cantorial gifts with us. I brought home the CD and have listened to it half a dozen times since, each time feeling moved by the beautiful voices, harmonies, instrumentation, and collective spirit. Thank you for sharing your divine gifts and uplifting my spirit as well as those of countless others. May you be blessed with health and joy and may your blessings be manifested and multiplied towards healing and peace.

    • Billy:

      Thank you so much for your kind note. It was sheer delight to have Jonah in our lives, and an honor to preserve that delight even with Jonah gone. So glad you like the CD! Billy

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