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Pinewood Purim: Lessons from a Half-foot of Childhood

Jonah'sYahrzeit.2010Jonah’s sixth yahrzeit is here. How is it possible? I was watching an episode of “Sherlock,” the one where he appears to have died. Watson is visiting Holmes’ grave and asks if he’d perform one more miracle, “Please … don’t be dead.” As the tears ran down my cheeks, I nodded in recognition. How many times have I made that same request of Jonah? Well, he won’t make me that miracle, but he still gives me good stories. And while that’s not my preference, it’ll just have to do, won’t it? So in honor of my sweet, good boy, here’s another story. A perfect Jonah-story.  


Here's the first one Jonah made ... with lots of help

Here’s the first one Jonah made … with lots of help

A few weeks back, I brought into our religious school some of Jonah’s childhood memories – two Pinewood Derby cars. The Pinewood Derby is an annual competition where Cub Scouts make model cars from balsa wood and race them. I showed the kids the first of five cars Jonah had made, a sleek, fancy number which he’d worked on with a friend’s dad, someone who, unlike Jonah’s dad, actually knew something about woodwork. Three more of these really cool designs would follow in succeeding years.

I was a Cub Scout. And I too participated in the Pinewood Derby. And I too had a dad who couldn’t tell a nut from a bolt, so my entries were utterly horrifying when stacked against my competition. Not only were my cars incredibly ugly, they barely made it down the track let alone across the finish line.

Jonah's final Pinewood entry ... view #1

Jonah’s final Pinewood entry … view #1

As the years of Jonah’s involvement in Cub Scouts progressed, you could see a transformation taking place. Even though he was still working with his friend’s dad, Jonah was incorporating more and more of his own personality on each car. The fancy paint jobs were replaced by magic marker drawings and, by year five, he made his car completely on his own, a rectangular block of wood that pretty much stayed rectangular, sanded and smoothed at the corners, but with an addition that was unmistakably Jonah. He drew a single line across the width of the car about a third of the way down its body and created two “handles,” one for the upper section and one for the lower. Limited in technique but overflowing in creativity and humor, Jonah had fashioned himself a freezer refrigerator on wheels! He named it: Demented Refrigerator. That it won 1st prize for creativity surprised no one. That it won 2nd place in the racing competition astonished us all.

Jonah's final Pinewood entry ... view #2

Jonah’s final Pinewood entry … view #2

Purim has once again arrived, a time of masks, hidden intentions and, as things go, Jonah’s yahrzeit. Six years ago, he was buried only hours before Purim began. I imagine he would have enjoyed knowing our remembrance of him is always commingled with Judaism’s comic holiday. Probably his favorite temple moment growing up was performing in our “Improv Purim.” His team was really good and really funny.

Although Jonah’s been gone a while now, I continue to learn from him. I still hear from his friends about Jonah’s incessant kindness and the special bond he easily fashioned with others. Part of it, I think, was that Jonah wore no masks. He held no hidden intentions. Once he’d discovered, during his teens, the greatness inside himself — a big, strong heart, selflessly offered to others, wrapped in a wild and wooly sense of humor — these together served him beautifully in negating the necessity to ever hide his true nature from others.

Jonah in Cub Scouts (May 2000) ... he's the smiley kid to the right of the flags

Jonah in Cub Scouts (May 2000) … he’s the smiley kid to the right of the flags

I’m constantly amazed by what this sweet, kooky kid was able to achieve in his brief nineteen years. And as Purim once again reminds me that he’s gone, I also remember Purim’s, and Jonah’s, greatest lesson to us all: not to rely on masks but to trust in our essential goodness. This never failed Jonah, and I think it’s a pretty good Purim lesson for us all.

Improv Purim returned to my temple this year. Now, back home, I reluctantly inaugurate the 6th anniversary of the midnight phone call telling us that Jonah was hurt and an ambulance was on its way. Of all the memories Jonah has left to us, you can bet it’s the ones that include lots of laughter that I’ll be holding onto … tonight and every night thereafter.



This piece first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Woodlands Community Temple’s Makom, but was expanded for this collection.

3 Responses to “Pinewood Purim: Lessons from a Half-foot of Childhood”

  • Donna Sorrow:

    what a beautifully written story! I think of you and Ellen often! Your strength is amazing! Thoughts of Jonah always take me immediately to PGT and his contagious smile. Love the refrigerator pinewood derby! hugs

  • Susan Salidor:

    I so enjoy your loving and funny reflections on Jonah and the singular life he led, even though I read them with a huge lump in my throat. Your stories are the only way for me to know him, and I thank you for sharing them. Thinking of you and Ellen and the rest of your family today. xoxoxoxo

  • Ronni Schatz:

    Such an eloquent and beautiful tribute to your son. I am sure I am not the only one who had tears in their eyes reading it. He must have been a very special young man!

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