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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Jonah @ Kutz: Dan Nichols

“Summer Camp” is The Jonah Maccabee Foundation’s summer fundraiser for 2015. Throughout June and July 2015, we’ll be remembering — through the writing of his friends as well as some who watched from the sidelines — experiences, both great and small, that were part of Jonah’s seventeen years (from age 1 to 18) at the URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY. We’re hoping you’ll be inspired to help us help Kutz continue its wildly successful work of helping teens blaze a summer’s path to a whole, healthy life. Please consider making your tax-deductible gift at jonahmac.org. Thank you. You’re the best!

Dan Nichols remembers …

2015.06.SummerCampDan Nichols has been writing and performing Jewish music with Eighteen since 1995. He spent ten summers at the Goldman Union Camp in Zionsville, IN, and now spends his summers visiting as many camps as he possibly can.

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Jonah and I had an interesting relationship.

Maybe it was because I was already close with his mom and dad. Maybe not. I’ll never know for sure.

Nevertheless, Jonah always seemed to look down his nose at me a bit – always kept his distance – just out of my reach. At least that’s the way I felt when we talked. I asked him about it once while we were together at Kutz. I remember Jonah saying something like, “You know, everybody here thinks you’re like a rock star, or something, but I know you’re not.”

DanNichols.01I think I said something like, “You know, you’re right. I’m not a rock star. I don’t want to be a rock star. Sometimes I struggle with how people put that on me. Over time, I have learned that I don’t have complete control over how folks perceive me. All I can do is be true to myself and good and sincere with others and then let it go – try to have faith that will be enough.”

That seemed to make an impression on Jonah. After that conversation, he seemed to be much more available when we talked. In fact, we talked a lot more. I doubt that what I said was the reason. I think Jonah needed to be heard. I think he needed to tell me, “I’m not like everybody else. I see through the BS. I’ve got you figured out and you need to know that.”

I appreciated that in Jonah. I needed to hear that. It felt like I was being held accountable. We all need to feel that.

Jonah approached me at Kutz one day and said, “You should have me play with you and your band at the concert you’re giving for camp.”

Jonah played ukulele. He had purchased it in Hawaii during a family vacation the previous year. I think I said, “You want to play with me. Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you.”

Later that day, I thought of the song that might be great. It was Harry Belafonte’s Turn The World Around. It’s a great song, but not a particularly easy song. One of challenging aspects of the song is the meter. It’s in 5/4 – five beats per measure, and the quarter note gets the beat. Not a deal-breaker, but not a walk in the park either.

Dan & Jonah (Kutz, July '05)

Dan & Jonah (Kutz, July ’05)

Jonah and I practiced. He had a hard time with it. He didn’t pick it up right off the bat. This seemed to frustrate him too. I think it was because he assumed that any song I would pick would be easy for him. He may have been a little embarrassed. He was certainly red in the face. We took a break. We met later in the day and tried it again. It went better – still not perfect, though. I told him we’d figure it out at sound check. We met at sound check. Tried it again. Better, but still shaky. He was nervous. I could tell that this was important to him. I tried to reassure him that camp was a supportive place where he would be appreciated regardless of his performance level on stage. We left it at that.

Just before the show Jonah approached me. He was smiling. He said, “I have something for you. I noticed that a bunch of the Kutz participants have asked you to sign their guitar picks. I want you to have this.”

Jonah handed me one of his picks. He had signed it. He said, “Now you can remember me and our little talk.”

He gave me a nod of the head that said, “I got you. We’re good.”

That night, Jonah played Turn The World Around with me and the band. He nailed it. No surprise – Kutz loved him.

I loved Jonah. I loved his honesty. I loved his courage.

I love Kutz. Kutz gave us the space and time to figure ourselves out – even just a little bit.

Sometimes, that’s just enough.


Do you have a memory of Jonah at Kutz? Share it as a comment below. And please donate to our “Summer Camp ‘15″ campaign at jonahmac.org/donate. Thanks!

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