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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Sweet Toots

For quite a few seasons, Jonah was the only thing that stood between me and his mom … at the Young Families Rosh Hashanah service. It was a gig that Ellen and I’d had since we’d moved back to New York in 1995. No matter what else was going on during the High Holy Days, this was our opportunity to share the bimah even if only for 45 minutes, and even if half our congregation was crying and wetting their pants. Our spiritual Vaudeville act overflowed with singing and storytelling, but we were delighted when 11-year old Jonah, who’d been learning how to play the shofar, joined us in September 2001. It was shortly after 9/11 and synagogues worldwide were consumed with processing our nation’s trauma. But for 3/4 of an hour, we were all smiles as Jonah, barely able to hold my large Yemenite shofar aloft, created tiny toots (so as not to scare off the little ones in the room) followed by the longer, traditional blasts so recognizable for countless generations.

Eventually, Jonah’s skills would earn him an invitation to be the ba’al tekiya for Woodlands’ main services on Rosh Hashanah and at Neilah. He’d do that for one year and then never again which was, of course, vintage Jonah. As with so many of the things he loved in life, Jonah wasn’t interested in tainting his favorite activities with the distraction that came from other people relying on him too much. So for seven years, until his graduation from high school, Jonah stood between me and his mom as a hundred little kids delighted (or so their crying and peeing seemed to indicate) in the playful toots of Jonah’s truly expert shofar playing.

Jonah, age 10 (Sep 2000) Shofar Savvy!

Jonah, age 10 (Sep 2000)
Shofar Savvy!

By the way, one year there was almost no Jonah-on-the-shofar at all. He’d found out that I’d let a bunch of kids try to get a sound out of our shofar and he was thoroughly disgusted at the thought of sharing that mouthpiece after “germ warfare” had rendered it toxic. Similarly, when Jonah was eight, our friend Josh Davidson presented him with a trumpet as a Hanukkah gift. It had been Josh’s trumpet from forever and Josh felt that Jonah was the right person to give it to. For two reasons: a) Josh loved that Jonah had been learning to play the shofar; and, b) Jonah and Josh shared the same initials – J.M.D. – which was imprinted on the trumpet’s case. Jonah was thrilled to receive the instrument but commented to me that “it looks a little old.” When I told him a polishing would make it good as new, he still couldn’t fathom ever using the mouthpiece because “it must be covered with millions of disgusting germs.” I imagine that love’s first romantic kisses cured him of that phobia.

While I was disappointed that Jonah didn’t want to be on our main bimah, I grew to admire him for the choices he was making. He was becoming so aware of what made him feel good about himself. It’s not that he didn’t love center-stage (as anyone who ever heard him sing “Makin’ a Motzi” can attest), but it was important to him that he protect from criticism the things (like shofar and guitar and ukulele) he so profoundly enjoyed. The “Luckiest Dad” award goes to me because I was one of the few people on the planet who got to hear him often.

But others were watching. And Jonah’s “limited engagements” were making a difference in some of their lives. After Jonah died, I received a note from a mom who wrote about attending the Young Families service when her children were younger. Her son became quite taken with Jonah’s shofar-playing – that this “kid” could stand up and do it so well – and announced he was going to learn how to do it too … just like Jonah. And he did. Today, he’s one of the newest generation of ba’alei tekiya at Woodlands. His mom wrote, “Jonah truly inspired him to reach for and accomplish this goal.”

It seems that it doesn’t really matter so much what we do with our time, so long as we do it as well as we can, and with as much heart as we can. Someone’s always watching, and we may just be the one who, for them, makes all the difference.


3 Responses to “Sweet Toots”

  • That was one of my first memories at Woodlands, coming to the young families service with Briana and seeing this kid up there, with a shofar! Boy did I want to be a part of THIS place, I thought!

  • Thanks for the memories, Billy – I remember Jonah’s shofar blowing, too, and loved how he found his own way to celebrate the part of himself that was too close to Mom and Dad to feel quite comfortable as a teenager!

  • […] themselves because of Jonah. If you want to read more about Jonah’s horn-period, take a look at Sweet Toots (May 24, […]

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