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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Thoughts on the 5th Annual Jonah Maccabee Concert

Somehow, this never got published. I wrote it shortly after our March 2014 concert, but life must have gotten away from me and this just sat in the bullpen. Well, here it is now. I hope it’s still got some resonance.



2014 Jonah Maccabee ConcertThis year’s 5th Annual Jonah Maccabee Concert has come and gone. 200 attendees were giddy with spirit as Julie Silver and Ken Chasen (joined by violinist Elana Arian, percussionist Yuval Lion and bassist Dave Phillips) filled the room and our hearts with two hours of great music. The money raised from the concert will provide scholarships to help young people at Woodlands Community Temple participate in URJ summer programs whose families would otherwise be unable to send them.

Here’s the letter we included in the evening’s program:

Dear friends,

It’s been five years since the night Jonah died. In that time, our family has walked often along the broken road that runs through the valley of the shadow. But we never walked it alone. How fortunate and grateful we are for you, our family and friends, who never left us to find our own way without your compassion and love alongside. You’ve mourned with us, cried with us and, when we were ready, helped us rebuild the joy in our lives. Thank you.

You’ve also joined us in celebrating Jonah’s life through this now annual Jonah Maccabee Concert. Not for nothing did Jonah love music. After all, he wasn’t born with that ukulele in his hands. Music is dear to our entire family. And whether we’re singing around the piano or just listening to iTunes, Jonah’s love was our love too. We’re so pleased to share the music of Julie Silver and Ken Chasen with you this evening – two super musicians and wonderful friends whom we’ve wanted you to meet for a long time.

In one of his college applications, Jonah wrote: Although school made its own contribution to my musical career, a bigger influence still was the time I’ve spent at Jewish summer camps. Every summer of my life was spent at either Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY, or Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, MA. A little known fact in this day and age is that Jewish summer camps give birth to incredibly talented musicians. As I developed, the big thing was guitar. Either you knew how to play it, or you loved someone who did. The first 12 years I just got to watch. At the end of my 12th summer, I bought my first guitar.

Jonah’s story is a common one. His dad fell in love with Jewish music at the URJ camp in Indiana. His mom fell in love with it at Kutz. It happened to Julie Silver at Camp Pembroke in Massachusetts. And to Ken Chasen also at the URJ camp in Indiana. Our summer camps offer so many gifts to our kids. For a lot of them, the music will accompany them home and shape their journeys across their entire lives. The melodies may change, the back-beats shift, but the accompaniment plays on forever. And life is better for it.

Jonah loved making music. In doing so, he reflected one of humankind’s greatest loves. As Plato taught, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

Thanks for coming tonight. Enjoy the music … always!

Ellen, Billy, Katie and Aiden Dreskin

5th Annual Jonah Concert Julie Silver & Ken Chasen March 2014

5th Annual Jonah Concert
Julie Silver & Ken Chasen
March 2014

As always, the evening opened with Havdalah. We bring Shabbat to a close with this ceremony, and also think a bit about Jonah. Here are the words that Ellen and I shared:

The Rubik’s Cube appears to be one of life’s great mysteries. The fifty-four colored squares on its six faces can be arranged in something like forty-three quintillion possible configurations. And all but one of those configurations are wrong. Jonah knew how to solve the Cube. It’s an awesome experience watching someone do that. It makes you think they’re some kind of genius. But of course, anyone can do it if you study the solution, follow the directions, and you’re really patient. The thing about Jonah is that he didn’t just enjoy solving the Cube, he loved teaching others to solve it. He did the same thing with his guitar and his ukulele. Jonah had no interest in keeping secrets. If he knew something, and you were curious about it, he’d teach it to you.

They say the Rubik’s Cube can be solved in a hundred moves. If you’re really good, in as few as twenty. Some can solve it blindfolded. Some with one hand. And some even with their feet. But the solutions all require knowledge of the path forward. It’s nearly impossible to solve the Cube without learning how. URJ summer camps teach. They teach curious kids about the value of a strong Jewish identity, the support of a caring community, the knowledge of ethical precepts that can help guide their lives and, possibly, the solution to the Rubik’s Cube. We believe that no child who wants to attend a URJ summer program should be prevented from doing so just because their family can’t afford it. With your help, we’re raising the money that can make the difference for these kids.

Life is sort of like a Rubik’s Cube. There are billions of choices. And while there’s more than one solution and you don’t have to learn yours from someone else, it can really help. The musicians who entertain us at the Jonah Maccabee Concerts are all steeped in the traditions and values of our people and, through their music, they share Jewish wisdom. The URJ summer programs, like our guest artists, can help guide young people toward wonderful, wise and compassionate answers to the great questions about how to live life.

This ceremony of Havdalah, of separation between Shabbat and the new week, is a curious thing. It envisions a time when there won’t be a separation – not between days of the week, and not between you and me. It encourages us to cultivate the holy in our lives, to share with others without hesitation, and not withhold from those who are curious to learn. This concert embraces the vision of Havdalah, sharing the knowledge of goodness with those who want to learn, and laboring to end all separation between our brothers and sisters in the human family.

So whether you can solve the Rubik’s Cube or you’re just impressed by someone who can, we’re so grateful to share lights, spices, wine … and great music with you tonight. The world is full of good answers to most of our questions. Sometimes we’re the student, and sometimes the teacher. And sometimes we’re the one to enable others on their journeys. That’s what Jonah loved to do. He had a genius for it. And that’s what we’re all doing tonight.

Havdalah with Ken and Julie March 2014

Havdalah with Ken and Julie
March 2014

It was a wonderful night. Jonah, of course, would have love it: the music, the gift of summer wonder, and the fuss made over him.

Click on the concert logo above to see this year’s program booklet.


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