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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The 3rd Annual Jonah Maccabee Concert

I lost an hour’s sleep last night. And that was in addition to the Daylight Savings change. I couldn’t stop thinking about the evening’s concert. Dan Nichols and Josh Nelson. So professional. So caring. So loving of the Dreskins. So loving of Jonah – their student, their fan, their friend.

We raised a boatload of money to help families send their kids to camp. Jonah – Mr. Camp himself – would approve. We’re going to do a lot of good with those dollars, “bringing the gift of a Jewish summer to our children.”

And once again, our family was encircled by so many of you who would, if you could, lift the forever-pain that accompanies our new lives. But since you can’t, you gathered near to try and absorb a little bit of that sorrow and help us to smile again. Which we do. Because while life may be missing one of its colossal blessings, an infinite number of other blessings remain. Remove a bucket of water from the ocean; you’ve still got an ocean full of water.

You heal us. Thank you, everyone. Our amazing Concert Committee from Woodlands who, with skill and with love, crafted the event. All of you who purchased tickets and more to support the scholarships. And those of you who couldn’t attend but who reached out to let us know we are in your hearts. To you all, we are grateful to a depth you cannot know.

Our family has, for the third year now, written two brief pieces to try and express our thoughts about what this concert means and about Jonah’s ongoing role in the universe. I like to include them here because they are part of the corpus of memories and thoughts I think should stick around.

Here’s the letter we placed in the program booklet:

Dear friends,

During the summer of 2005, at the age of fifteen, Jonah Maccabee Dreskin finally became a program participant at Kutz Camp, the Reform movement’s teen leadership program in Warwick, NY. We write “finally” because from the age of one, Jonah had spent his summers living as a “fac brat” at Kutz while one or both of his parents served on faculty there. For a very long time, he’d looked forward to experiencing Kutz the way he’d seen teens doing for so many years.

One evening during that 2005 summer, Aiden and Billy made the hour’s drive for an impromptu visit. They came across Jonah sitting on a large patch of grass with about thirty other participants playing Lap Tag, a fun little game that offers a thinly-veiled excuse for wrapping one’s arms around someone else. They weren’t surprised to find Jonah in the middle of this game and watched for a while from the sidelines. When the game was over, they snuck Jonah off-camp for dinner at G’s, the Warwick diner. Afterwards, they suggested a stop at Penning’s for soft-serve ice cream, but Jonah turned them down. He didn’t want to be late for the evening program.

That’s what summer camp is all about. Great times with great friends. Getting your hands on non-dining hall food. And not wanting to miss whatever program is coming next.

Oh yes, camp is also a great way to deepen Jewish identity. But like the low sugar content in kid-tested, parent-approved Kix, few kids will brag about that part.

This is, at least in part, why we’re here this evening. Jonah loved camp. For eighteen summers, he drank in as much of it as he possibly could. Like every other camp kid, he loved the friendships and the summer memories that were savored throughout the school year until camp came ‘round once again. It helped shape the person that Jonah became, enlarging and strengthening the soul of this person whom we admired and deeply loved.

Tonight is about camp, and the kinds of summer experiences we want for our children. Kid-tested, parent-approved.

Thank you for coming tonight … to remember Jonah, and to help us give others the blessings he was so fortunate to have received.

Ellen, Billy, Katie and Aiden Dreskin

And here are our words from the Havdalah ceremony that preceded Dan’s and Josh’s taking the stage:

Rabbi Larry Kushner teaches us: “Each lifetime is the pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. For some there are more pieces, for others the puzzle is more difficult to assemble. Some seem to be born with a nearly completed puzzle. And so it goes. Souls going this way and that, trying to assemble the myriad parts.

“But know this. You do not have within yourself all the pieces to your puzzle. Like before the days when they used to seal jigsaw puzzles in cellophane, insuring that all the pieces were there.

“Everyone carries with them at least one, and probably many pieces to someone else’s puzzle. Sometimes they know it. Sometimes they don’t.

“And when you present your piece, which is worthless to you, to another, whether you know it or not, whether they know it or not, you are a messenger from the Most High.”

Our son, our children’s brother, Jonah, carried a lot of puzzle pieces. And like the thirty-six righteous individuals who walk the earth, and for whose sake our world remains intact, and yet we don’t know who they are, and even they don’t know who they are, we had no idea that Jonah Maccabee Dreskin had been carrying so many pieces of other people’s puzzles. It wouldn’t be until the months, and now years, after his death that we would hear so many stories of his activist kindness – sort of a vigilante do-gooder, always keeping an eye out for others in need whether they were sad, or alone, or hungry or homeless.

While Jonah’s life ended far too soon, it turns out he’d had plenty of time to deliver his pieces. And in doing so, he’d become a model for how many of us would like our best selves to be. And now, we are discovering puzzle pieces we hadn’t known we were carrying. Wanting to be like him, wanting to keep the best parts of him within us, we’re delivering those pieces, and helping others make their puzzles complete.

Havdalah is about separation. But it really isn’t. In this ceremony, we draw distinctions … between light and dark, between seeing and not, between sacred and ordinary, between blessing and missing the blessing. We draw those distinctions not to value one above another, but to understand the harmony, how the pieces of our world fit together, including those that don’t seem to fit at all, and how we have been invited to help complete the puzzle.

This evening, we will celebrate – through this ceremony, through the music that will follow, through the work we’re doing to help kids go to camp – we will celebrate all that is right in our world. Done so because a kid named Jonah cared about that sort of thing, and, before he went away, taught us how to create harmony of our own by reaching out and finding out one of life’s often surprising and wondrous discoveries, “I’ve got a puzzle piece that belongs to you.”

With Havdalah, we share our pieces, we share the innumerable lights that can be kindled from a single flame, and we ready ourselves – with gifts of words and deeds and love and puzzle pieces – to become, like a 19-year-old kid once did for everyone around him, a “messenger from the Most High.”

It’s one thing to remember this boy. My thoughts overflow with disconsolate regret that he perished, with jubilant reminiscence of his bold and generous living, and with grateful spirit for the gift of his presence that still resides among us. It’s something even higher to act – in his name – to bring something better into our world. It’s a holy thing, that may make the tears flow even moreso but linked to a humble yet profound understanding that, even when we are gone, we can inspire others to do some of the best that we might have done, that Jonah Maccabee Dreskin would have tried to do had he been given the time to do so.


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