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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Kutz: A Human Symphony in Three Movements

A brief history of Jonah Maccabee Dreskin and the URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, New York: Jonah loved Kutz, Jonah hated Kutz. And then Jonah loved Kutz.

Katie and Jonah at Kutz Camp Summer 1991

Katie and Jonah at Kutz Camp
Summer 1991

Here’s what went down. Our family started spending all or part of our summers at the Reform movement’s teen leadership nexus beginning in 1991. We were living in Cleveland back then and, for four summers, made an 8-hour drive in 11 hours (lots of pitstops when you’re driving with little kids), and stayed on for two weeks. Jonah was only one at the time, so he was pretty agreeable to almost anything. Life was good.

In 1995, we moved back to New York. Ellen started spending the entire summer at Kutz, while I continued spending two weeks there. This meant that Katie and Jonah, now joined by baby brother Aiden, spent their entire summers there too. I would drive up after Woodlands’ Shabbat evening service and stay over until early Monday morning.

During “Phase One,” Jonah was very happy. Basically he, along with a moderately-sized mob of Fac Brats, had the run of the place. Since all the program participants (PP’s) were teenagers, it was like having 250 babysitters at your beck-and-call: no one bossing you around, but everyone making sure you’re safe and well-entertained. Arts and crafts, swimming, movie nights, and minimal parental nagging, all ensured that Kutz Camp was as close to heaven-on-earth as a kid could ever wish for.

Until “Phase Two.” Around 1999, someone came up with a really great idea. Bottle the formula that was providing all the Fac Brats with such great summers, then invite Warwick residents to sign their kids up to join the fun, and you’d have a new source of income for the camp. The formula worked. Except for Jonah. The problem? Jonah had known the sweet taste of freedom. He enjoyed waking up whenever he wanted, taking meals whenever he wanted, doing whatever activities whenever he wanted. Get the picture? Jonah hated Camp Shalom (as it was called). He detested having to show up at a time of someone else’s choosing for an activity of someone else’s choosing. And Jonah refused to comply (which should be familiar to any of you who knew him when he was younger). He argued, he brooded, and he stomped his feet. And when that didn’t work, he took off. Camp Shalom ended up having to assign a counselor to the job of finding where Jonah was hiding each day … several times each day.

Until “Phase Three.” As soon as he could, Jonah got as far away from Kutz Camp as … well, as far as Eisner. For quite a few years, Jonah took up summer residence at a camp where, if he was going to have to do what others told him to do, at least let it be geared toward his own age group. And for the most part, he loved it (I’ll fill you in on that story some other time). But come ninth grade, Ellen and I were somewhat stunned to hear Jonah say, “I want to go back to Kutz. I spent too many summers there as a Fac Brat watching others have a good time. There’s no way I’m missing out on seeing for myself what that’s all about!”

Jonah at Kutz Camp Summer 2008

Jonah at Kutz Camp
Summer 2008

And so in the summer of 2005, Jonah went to Kutz as a full-fledged PP. He adored it! He loved it so much that in 2007, he went back and did the PP thing again. And then last summer, in 2008, he joined the Kutz Staff. The Kutz Staff! He worked in the kitchen where he loved being able to do a job that he could finish without having to think too much about it (“I’m good at it,” he’d tell us), and then to have time to relax and enjoy basking in the beauty (and fun) of the Kutz community. Then for this coming summer (2009), in typical Jonah-fashion, rather than move on to a job in a cabin as an RA, he asked to be placed back in the kitchen – where he could do his job well, and where he could also most likely do what so many of his contemporaries loved about him … be fun, be funny, do some good thinking, and be a good friend to lots of good folks. That, after all, was what Jonah loved best in life. He was gifted in that way, and it was his gift to us all.


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