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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Lexi Milford: Ten Years Later (Part 4)

Jonah’s death ten years ago commenced a journey for many of us that has been filled with sadness (of course) but also with love — so much love. With this campaign, “10 Years Later,” you’re invited to spend some time with some of Jonah’s best friends and teachers.

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Meet Lexi Milford.

Lexi lives in Queens, NY. In her spare time, she illustrates on commission and works on personal projects, practices guitar, brews beer, hikes and camps and goes on bike tours. She loves cooking, coming up with new recipes and sharing a good meal with friends. In the last year, she and her partner went on a statewide bike tour, cycling from NYC to Buffalo. Lexi’s future aspirations involve moving her career to align moreso with her passions and interests. She hopes to continue going on bike tours, aiming to someday cycle across the United States and across other countries.

Lexi writes:

I knew Mac for less than a year, when we were freshman at the University at Buffalo.

Mac was really good at debating.

When we walked around or he was thinking about something, he would absentmindedly beat box to himself.

He cared deeply about the well-being of his friends. For his spring semester, he designed his whole schedule around taking classes with one of our friends who was struggling in school. I don’t think she knew, but he did this to try and be able to help her.

He had a strong sense of moral right. He just seemed to know what was good versus unjust.

One time our group of friends had gotten up very early to watch the sunrise from a really beautiful spot. But when got there, we found it enveloped in fog. The orange streetlights gave everything an other-worldly feel and the fog added a sense that we were the only people in the world. At one point as we we walking, Mac decided to run down the empty trail with his arms out like an airplane. Watching him laugh and run like a little kid enjoying the strange fog, this such a pure moment and it still makes me smile.

Mac approached others with a profound level of authenticity and kindness that seemed to draw people to him. He had a warmth and knew how to step back from a situation, not dealing with people or emotions rashly but with a sincere desire to understand. Even when angry, he sought to understand. One time, Mac displayed extraordinary patience when someone had behaved in a particularly cruel way towards him. I’m still in awe of how well he managed that very difficult encounter. Mac handled most situations with a powerful degree of calmness (even when it was obvious that he was angry).

He seemed to live consistently by his values of justice and honesty. He was genuinely loyal and cared deeply about the people around him.

In almost every memory I have of Mac, I see him laughing or smiling. He did that a lot.

He also seemed to be a natural-born teacher. Mac always liked sharing the things that he knew and took joy in teaching others. I remember him sitting with day after day with one of our friends, teaching her how to solve the Rubik’s Cube that he kept with him.

He was an absolutely amazing guitar player. Often, when our group of friends were hanging out together, his guitar came out and we would all jam and sing.

When I think about the life Mac might have lived, I imagine his drive for things being fair and just, along with his debating skills (and winning, for that matter), combined with his love of philosophy and asking questions, and his natural inclination toward teaching, and I wonder if he might have become a professor of ethics or perhaps philosophy. I think he would have done really well there in either of those fields.

I want to try and be the person Mac thought I was. Once, I showed him a piece of artwork I had printed out and he looked at it with such wonder before telling me that he thought I could really be an artist. It was such a sincere moment. Mac was a sincere person. I don’t think he could have been anything other than that. That moment comes to mind when I doubt my work. I hope to approach life and the world around me with the depth of sincerity that he brought to everything. Mac inspires me to be a compassionate person who brings laughter into the world.

I’d always wanted to play guitar. I was given a right-handed guitar when I started college. Mac was the person who convinced me to keep it, sitting with me and teaching me how to play Tom Petty’s “Free Falling.” This year, I finally bought myself a left-handed guitar. I think of Mac when I practice.

Mac will come to mine during the quiet moments of my day, or when a particular song is playing, and I think of him and of our friends from those days in college. I wonder many things. What could have been different, where he is now. Sometimes it brings a smile, sometimes a twang of nostalgia, and other times the whisper of a soft apology.

I’ve dreamed about Mac. In one, it’s a warm sunny day as I’m walking through (I assume) our the area around our college dorm where we would hang and play Frisbee. People are outside enjoying the nice weather. I turn a corner and he is there, lounging on the grass with others around him, just enjoying the day. I sit down next to him, surprised, and tell him that we all miss him. I ask, “Are you happy and okay? What happened to you, man?” He is quiet, and then tells me he doesn’t remember, but that he’s happy and sends well wishes to all of us. He asks about a few other people as we talk of our friends and things that had occurred (as dreams often go, I don’t remember many details). We sit a while longer in the sun like any other day. Then he stands and says that he has to go. It all felt very real to me, from the sun’s warmth to the easy conversation.

I haven’t dreamed of him since. I like to think he was checking in to say hello and to quell any worries.

In the years since Mac died, I feel the urgency of expressing kindness to others now, rather than waiting, as the moment could be too late. I strive to speak with purpose rather than rashly, especially in times of anger, again because the moment for apologies may never come.

I want to have big, beautiful adventures throughout my life, in part because I need to carry a little more for him. I will continue to play guitar both for myself and in memory of him. I will try to live as authentically as I can and to carry his sense of wonder, his inquisitive nature, and his persistent kindness.

I am lucky for the time I had with Mac, and I am aware how brief it was in the grand scheme of things. Our group of friends shared such a deep camaraderie. We lived in the same building, ate together, went to classes on the same buses and hung out together. There were many days that felt like entire lifetimes had been lived in them. It seems rare (and rarer still, now that I am older) to have found such treasured friendships. For that, I am honored.

Lexi

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We all miss that boy. It’ll probably always hurt that he’s gone. But he left us so much, and that’s what these writings express. Watch for them in emails and postings throughout the month. Our hope is that these stories will inspire you to make your gift at jonahmac.org/donate to help us help kids build whole, healthy lives.We continue to miss Jonah and to feel grateful: a) that we had him in our lives; and, b) that he’s inspired us to do good stuff in his name. We’re incredibly honored that you’ve joined us in our work and thank you in advance for donating to our Summer Campaign.

Very sincerely,
Ellen, Billy, Aiden, Katie and Mark
The Jonah Maccabee Foundation

ALSO ALSO ALSO … The Jonah Maccabee Foundation is so proud to now be the beneficiaries of the proceeds from four exceptional musical recordings:

“So Is Life” was recorded by (ta da!) So Is Life, which includes Dan Nichols, Josh Nelson, Cantor Rosalie Boxt and Cantor Ellen Dreskin. It’s a magnificent album and is available to you as a download and on CD (if anyone still has a CD player). You can order So Is Life right here.

And now, you can order the music of Beged Kefet (which, for you youngsters out there, was a Jewish performance group that Ellen and Billy were in for a good 20 years or so). Beged Kefet recorded three albums, all now available to you! Our thanks to the members of Beged Kefet — Beth Sher, Cantor Leon Sher, Cantor Riki Lippitz, Cantor Ellen Dreskin, Rabbi Les Bronstein and Rabbi Billy Dreskin — for allowing us to use the proceeds from their three recordings to help kids build whole, healthy lives. You can order your Beged Kefet digital downloads here.

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