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 Foundation of Feathers

I thought of you today, Jonah. Yeah, I know, I think of you everyday. But today’s is worth sharing.

One feather ... 300-400 soda can tabs

One feather …
300-400 soda can tabs

Jeffrey Schrier and his “Wings of Witness” project was at Woodlands Community Temple this afternoon. Again. Jeffrey’s been coming to us for at least ten years now. And each time he appears, the temple kids are completely fascinated by the message of his project, and by the activity involved in creating it. “Wings of Witness” involves 13 million soda can tabs, and more than 50,000 participants since 1997 who have slowly been assembling the tabs into a memorial to the 13 million murder victims of the Holocaust (six million Jews and seven million others, including political prisoners, pacifists, disabled, gays, lesbians, Roma, and anyone who tried to rescue a condemned life).

Jonah, age 11 ... calm, quiet, and into it!

Jonah, age 11 …
calm, quiet, and into it!

But you knew that, didn’t you? Because the first time Jeffrey came to Woodlands, back in 2001, you were eleven years old, in the sixth grade, and in that room. I remember walking into the Sanctuary and first being overwhelmed by the uniform cooperation the artist was receiving from the 50 or 60 middle schoolers who had just become his newest partners. Each student was quietly affixing three or four hundred tabs to a metal rod that would eventually become a feather on a giant, steel butterfly’s wing. But what stopped me in my tracks that afternoon was that, over in a side corner, quietly working on his own feather, sat my very own Jonah. You. Never one to either be quiet or terribly cooperative back then, my jaw dropped. But Jeffrey Schrier’s project had captivated you too, and at least one of the feathers on that mammoth butterfly is yours.

And isn’t that how life works? We move through our days, living our lives, doing the things we do. And along the way, slowly, almost imperceptibly, we make our mark on the universe. Like your feather, our mark is one among tens of thousands.

How you build a butterfly ... one feather, many times

How you build a butterfly …
one feather, many times

Most of us will not do anything famous, JoJo, but our contributions, one feather among so many others, will be no less important. Somewhere in that butterfly, a butterfly by the way whose feathers are attached to the body of a human being. This particular person was imprisoned in a death camp and had dreamt of acquiring wings with which to fly and to escape. Somewhere in that sad butterfly, somewhere in that artist’s beautiful dream, is a feather contributed to it by Jonah Maccabee Dreskin.

One feather. Your feather. A feather without which the project would most certainly have still succeeded. But your feather nonetheless. It’s in there. A small but valued contribution to the whole.

I still think nineteen years is way too little time for a person to live. I’ll always think that. But here’s something about that butterfly project that’s stopped me in my tracks. You were really still just a kid when you died. And you never got a chance to do anything famous, or to get rich, or achieve any of the other dreams you had. But in your nineteen years, you made quite a few feathers. So many of your friends (and you had so many friends!) have told me how much you meant to them, how selflessly you gave to them, whether it was to make them smile with your goofy clowning around or, when they were down, to make them smile with your kind and attentive ear. Your feather – outrageously colored like a peacock’s, yet surprisingly soft and warm – contributed not only to your wings, but to theirs as well.

I would have loved to have watched the next few decades’ unfolding chapters in your story. As the father of a high school student and first-year collegiate, I wasn’t privy to a whole lot of the goings-on in your life. I certainly was in touch with you when you were at home-base. But so much of those years was spent out and about … at Summit, at PGT, at Kutz, and at UB. Only during this past year have I learned just how rich and famous your life had been (Robin Leach would have had a field day … I can hear his accented commentary now … “Jonah Maccabee Dreskin certainly made a splash along the eastern coastline of the United States!”). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … for all you were, all you said, and all you did, no dad could have ever been prouder.

In science, one hears mention of something called the butterfly effect. It’s based on the concept of “sensitive dependence on initial conditions.” The upshot is that small changes in a dynamic system can produce large consequences affecting the long-range activity in that system.

For nineteen years, Jo, you assembled the feathers that comprised your wings. And then you flew. It took some time, I know. But once those wings had emerged, your life soared. It was a life that you loved. And one that made you loved by so many.

Your nineteen years have ended. I’m so sorry for that. But the effect of those nineteen years? I’m more and more confident that yours is one butterfly that will remain airborne for a long, long time to come.

Love you forever, boy.


For more information on “Wings of Witness,” visit wingsofwitness.org.

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