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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Reflections on Jonah as Musician – Part Five

2016.06.SummerCampaign'16Dear Jonah,

With the kick-off of your foundation’s summer campaign, music comes to mind. Summer in our family was always filled with music. For you, it was Kutz, Eisner, PGT, Maccabi Arts Fest, and just sitting at your desk waiting for some computer program to load … wherever you were, you were making music.

Parts one through four of this series – “Reflections on Jonah as Musician” – were written back in 2014 when I was still sharing every detail of your life that I could remember or collect from others. Two years later (and seven years after your death), things are different. I’m different. Deciding what’s important to set in writing is drawing upon a changed set of emotions and priorities. Early in my grieving for you, I struggled to recall everything about your life so that I wouldn’t lose any more of you than I had to. It was such a powerful emotion that I grew incredibly distressed when Facebook memorialized your page and many of your personal responses to people’s postings disappeared. I wrote Facebook to try and convince them to reactivate your account, but they wouldn’t budge. Another piece of you gone.

Jonah @ Kutz (2007)

Jonah @ Kutz (2007)

I used to receive wonderfully sweet stories about you from your friends (and even the parents of your friends). These days, such stories now arrive only rarely. But a few weeks ago, a young man I’d never met before came up to me and told me a familiar story – one I never tire of hearing. He related how, when he was a 9th grader attending his first NFTY regional event at Kutz Camp, he was hanging back watching everyone having a wonderful time but at a loss as to how to join the fun himself. All of a sudden, 12th grader Jonah came bounding over to him. You introduced yourself, ushered him into the fray, thus creating and unleashing another NFTY monster, seemingly your favorite pastime back then. That young man never forgot your kindness and seemed really delighted and honored to be able to tell me about it. I’m so grateful that he told me, and that you were so kind and generous to others. How proud I am of who you were.

I’ve heard so many similar stories through the years. You loved watching over your Kutz and NFTY communities, and doing what you could to help others enjoy being there as much as you did. I miss hearing those stories, so it was a very special privilege to discover there was still one more to be told. I know it’s happening less and less, but I hope there will still be occasional moments when someone finds out who I am and makes their way over to say, “I knew your son.”

Which brings us to your music.


Stephen Brickman

When I was writing the original series, “Reflections on Jonah as Musician,” I saw that a friend of yours, Stephen Brickman, had posted shortly after you died the following on Facebook: “I have many fond memories songleading with Jonah at NFTY-NAR events and hanging out late into the night during shul-ins. Jonah was even the one who taught me how to play ‘Redemption Song’ on the guitar.” I asked Stephen to do some more writing for me about Jonah and his music, but I somehow forgot about it until now (sorry, Stephen). A musician and aspiring songleader at that time, today Stephen is a songleader and music educator.

Here’s what he sent me in 2014:

As I think back to my days in NFTY with Jonah, several memories come to mind: There were events we coordinated and assisted together, helping to create and run programming for participants. Jonah once told me that he opted not to run for regional board because he liked how he was able to take leadership roles in other ways. Another one of those ways was musically. Of course, by this time Jonah had become famous for “Makin’ the Motzi,” a rap that had more or less become tradition for him to lead the region in. As I grew as a songleader and eventually became the regional songleading chair, Jonah was one of the most helpful and supportive. I remember staying up late into the night at the first event that year, playing music with him, prepping for a service the next morning. That night, Jonah taught me the tabs for “Redemption Song” and wrote them out on the back of one of the event’s schedules. I still have that piece of paper somewhere. On another occasion, Jonah and I thought it would be funny to start a late night song session and wake up the other guys’ bunks. It may not have been the best decision looking back, but it was a good time and a moment I’ll never forget.

Jonah put his all into the music. Every strum, every note, every beat came from deep in his heart and with the passion and energy that he was known for. Almost 10 years later, I’ve learned that that’s what songleading and music are all about. It’s not about singing the song perfectly. It’s not about hitting every chord. It’s not about how well the music was received. At the very base of making music is that passion and dedication and love for creating something powerful – something holy. Jonah understood that. I will always be grateful for my musical experiences with my friend.

This year, Jonah, you would be 26 years old. I’m so curious about where you would be in your life. And while I always believed that you could have done anything, I also know that you wouldn’t have, because you had your own personal drummer to which you gleefully marched. And you did so beautifully. Where that beat would have taken you, that’s something I would love to have seen. I’m thankful I was allowed to watch you for nineteen years.

JoJo, you made a very special kind of music while you lived. You touched lives in unforgettable ways – something quite remarkable for someone who hadn’t even reached his twenties. I am so proud of the person you became. Your music will play in my heart forever.


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