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: Joel Hoffman

2015.06.SummerCamp“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!

Joel Hoffman remembers …

JoelHoffmanJoel was at Kutz from 1973 to 1983 as a fac brat, in 1985 as a camper, and from 1986 to 2003 on staff or faculty. Dr. Joel M. Hoffman has written or contributed to over 20 non-fiction books, and is the author of the thriller series The Warwick Files, set in Kutz’s hometown of Warwick, NY.

*     *     *

I remember Jonah’s presence, of course, just as I remember what he did (and boy did he do some things).

Or at least, I think I do. Memory and time have always been fierce foes.

“Jonah ran away from day camp.” I remember that. His older sister Katie told me so in just so many words, right after she asked me if I knew where her brother was. I didn’t, but I was also curious why she herself didn’t know. I inquired. The answer was that, not uncharacteristically, Jonah’s plans had changed, and in this case they no longer included the prescribed day-camp activities. It’s possible he neglected to tell anyone of his revised agenda.

This particular day camp was run in the context of Kutz Camp’s flagship undertaking, a 25-day-long sleep-away session for Jewish teenagers from around the world. The day camp was originally tailored for the younger children of parents who were lucky enough to teach at Kutz. So even though Jonah was no longer with the day camp, he was – in all likelihood – still on campus, and was – again, in all likelihood – still supervised by an adult, or at least by a responsible 14-year old. It probably wasn’t an emergency.

Jonah also mentored younger children. I remember that as well. For him, adult direction in his own life was only one factor out of many that were worthy of consideration, but even as a child he could switch roles and become, if not the adult, the responsible and caregiving party. The faces of his mentees have blurred in my memory, but I know how lucky they were.

We've always considered Joel part of our family. ET too, but much more recently. (Disney World 1999)

We’ve always considered Joel part of our family. ET too, but much more recently. (Disney World 1999)

I knew Jonah “at home” in Westchester, too. But in a real sense, Kutz was more of his home than Westchester, because Kutz promotes the kind of individuality that other environments stifle, and Jonah insisted on heading off in his own direction – like when he chose to play ukulele in a culture dominated by guitars.

I feel like I remember the day at Kutz when a teen-aged Jonah joined Dan Nichols on stage and brought up his iconoclastic ukulele instead of the too-pedestrian guitar. But it turns out I wasn’t there. I must be remembering stories. Memory and time are fierce foes.

In fact, the full sentences I once had – young Jonah bolted out of the communal dining room to prowl Kutz Camp with his friends in search of the intersection of imagination and wonder – have become fragments. Asense of wonder and fascination. Authentic laughter. Musicality. Impish impertinence. Frustration with ineptitude. Deep curiosity. Boldness unhindered by self-consciousness. Promise and potential.

I can’t help but miss the sentences, even as this fragmentary memory itself paints a surprisingly lucid picture: Jonah becoming Maccabee. A boy becoming a man, caring for others, discovering himself, finding his footing, plotting a path, and then setting out to explore it – an undertaking left barely begun.

Yet I feel like Jonah planted guideposts far ahead of his own meager progress down that path. When I think of a face he made or a song he sang, a puzzle he might have enjoyed or a joke he would have liked, I encounter such a guidepost, and recognize that from time to time my own path in life still crosses his largely untrod journey. And I smile.



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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