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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On Jonah’s 5th Yahrzeit

Jonah'sYahrzeit.2010It’s been five years since March 5, 2009. In some ways, lots of time has passed by. But in other ways, it feels as if no time has passed at all. Grief stands strong while life continues on. Here are a few snapshots that illustrate Jonah’s continuing presence these days:

1) In the first months after Jonah’s death, I struggled with how to remember his face. As a 19-year old, it changed frequently. Long hair, short hair, bearded, clean-shaven – which Jonah do I remember? It really bothered me. Today, I’m comfortable with all “the Jonahs.” This is likely due to the ever-cycling collection of photographs that plays each day on a laptop computer in our living room. I think these pictures have reinforced and helped me to grow comfortable with the reality that there are many versions of Jonah from the years he lived among us. I love remembering them all.

2) I don’t dream about Jonah. I don’t know what psychology is at play here, but I suspect that because I “see” him in the many photographs each day, I don’t have the need to see him at night. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to have a nocturnal meet-up. Someday perhaps.

3) In early January, I taught a “Jonah Dreskin Memorial Confirmation Class.” Two months before he died, Jonah had dropped by the 10th grade and led a discussion on the intersection of Judaism and science. The kids loved the class, mostly because they enjoyed spending time with this older college kid. He was cool and they couldn’t get enough of him. Five years later, I brought his session back. And while much of the material is different (and the cool factor was utterly absent), it was his idea and I loved bringing a bit of him to share with my temple kids.

4) The Jonah Maccabee Concert has brought major contemporary Jewish songwriters to my synagogue, Woodlands Woodlands Community Temple. Together (them, us, and you!), we’ve raised substantial dollars to help WCT kids get to Reform Jewish summer programs. Jewish music and camping were so precious to Jonah. That piece of him remains an incredibly powerful presence in our temple, which makes me very happy.

5) The Jonah Maccabee Foundation, founded by my family in Jonah’s memory, is now in its second year of real activity. We make grants to organizations that focus on social justice, the arts, and Jewish life. I treasure the beautiful tributes these projects pay to Jonah’s life and memory.

6) Not as much as I used to but I continue to write about Jonah. It means a lot to me to preserve my favorite memories of him. I share them here at jonahmac.org/jonah, which helps me feel like there will be a place for his nieces and nephews to one day meet and get to know him.

I think that my greatest lesson from losing Jonah is that people are amazingly resilient. I came back from this, and I see so many others who are able to rebuild on the ashes of their own tragedies and traumas. I forever miss Jonah. But as in the apocryphal story of Itzhak Perlman breaking a string yet continuing to play and adjust and retune and complete his violin performance, I try each day to respond to the best and the worst in life by affirming that “it is our genius, as well as our hearts, to make music with what remains.”

As always, my family and I are deeply grateful for your continuing friendship and support.


These words appeared in a slightly different form in Woodlands Community Temple’s monthly Makom (March 2014).

3 Responses to “On Jonah’s 5th Yahrzeit”

  • Im sitting here with tears in my eyes, remembering how much I enjoyed learning from you at Fairmount Temple, and how you shared your particular spin on Judaism with me and David at our wedding. I now have a 19 year old daughter and a 16 year old son. The thought of losing one of my children is unimaginable. Your words both upset and comforted me at the same time – it is the first time that I truly understand how a memory can be a blessing. My gratitude and best wishes to you and your family. Amy

  • Laurel Fisher:

    As we approach our daughter Tracy’s 5th Yarhrzeit, I can empathize with your words, Billy. Most touching to me is knowing that Jonah and Tracy were friends through NFTY and shared many of the same passions. I honor you and Ellen for your commitment to finding joy, even in grief, and sharing that joy with others. Our sweet children were blessings in life and their memory continues to touch and move us all. We strengthen each other, chazak.

  • Abby Holland Belasco:

    Such a beautiful article about an amazing person. Love all the Hollands

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