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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Archive for the ‘Jonah’ Category

Looking Waaaay Back

Dear Jonah,

Now that I’m in my sixties and you’re gone more than nine years, there’s a different kind of remembering going on. I’m getting “old man” nostalgic — that time in life when youthful memories, dimly recalled from years “long misprision rusted,” sneak up and remind me that many decades have passed and not so many more are waiting up ahead.

You, of course, always called me “old man” so this would be nothing new to you (except maybe the reality that it’s actually starting to come true).

Let me explain.

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Remembering: Is the Joy Worth the Pain?

Dear Jonah,

I doubt you ever attended a Yizkor service, the quarterly gathering during which we remember loved ones who have died. Nowadays, you sit there right next to me.

When I lead these services, I often share the story of someone else’s cherished memory. My hope is these stories will trigger others’ memories of their own loved ones so that their observance of Yizkor becomes a very personal tribute during the hour we spend together.

This week, for Sukkot-Simkhat Torah Yizkor, I shared a story that hit very close to home. It wasn’t about you per se, but elements of the young man’s life reminded me of you. I warned the folks gathered there that I might cry and indeed I did. Afterwards, I was asked if that was difficult for me. Difficult to remember you with tears? Not only is it not difficult for me to conjure up a good cry for you, I don’t mind doing so in public. I want people to know that I miss you, and that you’re still a very important part of my life. The only difficulty was putting away the tears so that I could continue telling the story.

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“You Will Be Found” (The Jonah Mac Theatre – Endpiece)

PGT's Jonah Mac TheatreDear Jonah,

When the Jonah Mac Theatre (I still can’t believe they named it after you!) was dedicated at One North Broadway in White Plains, New York, I wrote three notes to you about it. But yesterday, I noticed a fourth note that I’d never finished. And since the moment it describes moved me so deeply, I really needed to complete it. So I’m sorry it’s taken so long to write this one, but I’ll tell you this: On March 11, 2018, I cried for you at this particular moment during the theatre’s dedication, and I cried for you again as I put these words together.

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The Jonah Mac Theatre – Part 3

PGT's Jonah Mac Theatre

Steven and Jill Abusch started Play Group Theatre (PGT) in 1995 and currently serve respectively as Executive Director and Artistic Director. While teaching their young charges to dig deeply into their creative reservoirs, they have never viewed “the production” as the be-all-and-end-all of their work but, rather, have always placed the greatest emphasis on how to nourish young hearts and spirits, using theatre as an excuse to help kids grow, as we say here at The Jonah Maccabee Foundation, healthy and whole. In designing the Jonah Mac Theatre, ever-so-lovingly dedicated to the memory of our boy Jonah, Steven and Jill paid obvious attention to creating a practical and beautiful theatrical space but, with a twinkle of mischief in their eyes, they incorporated into the room’s design elements that reflect who Jonah was, and what it was about him that Steven and Jill want young people to know: how his very essence embodied PGT’s mission and that the things he valued can (and will) continue to serve as a model for those who will come to PGT in the years ahead. These aspiring performers will think that they’re signing up to act in a play but, in actuality, they’ll be embarking upon a wonderful journey of life skills (and love skills!) training. On PGT’s website, Steven and Jill write, “Our work is focused entirely on the love of the craft and the life lessons that are a natural result of a healthy and non-competitive creative process.”

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The Jonah Mac Theatre – Part 2

PGT's Jonah Mac Theatre

Dear Jonah,

At the dedication of the Jonah Mac Theatre, before anyone could get in to see the new performance space (including us!), there were words that needed saying. Mom spoke about PGT’s years of wandering when there was no permanent home, and yet every kid in the program felt completely at home wherever Steven and Jill told them to show up. Having driven you and Aiden to my share of your auditions, rehearsals and performances (between you and Aiden, 22 shows), I have a pretty clear idea for myself what those years of wandering were all about.

So the words that I shared during the dedication are totally wrapped up in the point that mom was making. PGT took some work. You had to want to be there, wherever “there” was, because it was a constantly moving target. And Jonah, you certainly wanted that.

Here’s what I had to say:

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The Jonah Mac Theatre – Part 1

Dear Jonah,

Gordon Macrae & Susan Luckey in Carousel

For most of my life, I’ve carried a memory of Gordon MacRae playing the wayward carnival barker Billy Bigelow in the film version of Carousel, returning from the afterlife for a brief visit to help his daughter. I saw the film as a little kid and that scene has haunted me ever since, not in a frightening way but piquing my curiosity as to whether or not a person can breach that seemingly infinite divide between this life and the next.

After you’d gone, I held out hope for a few years that you might find a way to reach me from the great beyond. I saw you in my dreams a few times, but they were fleeting moments and always with you either facing away from me (so I couldn’t see your face) or moving away from me (so I couldn’t talk with you or get one of those trademark hugs of yours).

How’s that for frustrating?

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SO IS LIFE: The 9th Annual Jonah Maccabee Concert

2018 Jonah Concert @ WCTDear Jonah,

You should have been there.

Yes, I know that’s a preposterous proposition. But look who’s writing you letters!

Anyway, your concert is always a mixed bag, of course. The evening is always filled with incredible music, a ton of friends, phenomenal support from the URJ summer program staff, and even mouth-watering baked goods that you’d have loved. Actually, you would loved all of it. Even, in your own weird way, the whole idea that a concert’s being held each year in your name.

I think often of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn who were presumed drowned in the Mississippi River and snuck back to watch their own funeral. Believe you me, boy, if you’d like to surprise us all by opening up the second half of next year’s concert, please do!

Each year, I love watching your concert, even though the evening is always tinged with a quiet but persistent sense that you’re not there.

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Flying High

Dear Jonah,

Yesterday, Mom and I attended the funeral service for Rabbi Aaron Panken. He died young, although not quite so young as you were. It was, of course, an incredibly sad gathering. And like many funerals, it was uplifting too. Aaron was a good guy. He was well-loved by his family and his friends. He loved his life and his work, and he loved living fully. So as we were grieving his death, we were reveling in Aaron’s good fortune to have lived such a beautiful life.

Remind you of someone? (Except for the work part.)

Aaron loved to fly. It was also how he died. Rabbi David Stern said it best, “He fell from the Sabbath sky, but oh how he loved the Sabbath sky.” At the end of the service, two cantors stepped forward and, inspired by Aaron’s love of flying, sang an Israeli tune written by Arik Einstein, “Uf Gozal – Fly Away.”

Fly, my chick
Cut the sky
Fly anywhere you want
But don’t forget
There’s an eagle in the sky
Fly away*

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The Nintendo Gambit

Dear Jonah,

So many of my memories of you are wrapped up in family events. I’m thinking about an amusing moment embodying the playful love that defined so much of our time together: your and Katie’s 1999 birthday gift to me.

It’s really a generation-to-generation sort of thing, and it started back in perhaps 1989 (as best Mom and I can figure). Katie, Mom and I were in Lenox, Massachusetts, visiting our dear friends Fran and Gerry Weingast as we had done many times through the years. Mom’s birthday arrived while we there and I got her a present from all of us. It wasn’t one that she’d asked for nor would she ever have asked for – the original Nintendo Entertainment System (1st released in 1983). Mom would have been happy to never see one of these in our home, but Katie had wanted it and Mom kept saying no. I’ve always been enough of a tech geek to aid and abet your, Katie’s and Aiden’s childhood wishes of this sort. Truth be told, I couldn’t wait to get some play time too.

I dubbed this “The Nintendo Gambit,” congratulating myself on how clever I was in finding such a high-spirited way to bring electronic gaming into our home. If it didn’t exactly have Mom’s endorsement, it still couldn’t have happened without her, right?

She took it well (or so it seemed) but I could tell there were wheels turning inside her head, so I shouldn’t have been surprised (although I was) when my birthday arrived and she presented me with a twinkle in her eye and a very lovely dress. It was a style she adored and, surprise, it was just her size!

Installment number two of “The Nintendo Gambit” had been implemented.

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Ripples

Drop a pebble in the water — just a splash and it’s gone,
But there’s half a hundred ripples circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the center, flowing on out to the sea,
And there’s just no way of telling where the end is going to be.


 

Dear Jonah,

At the turn of the 20th century, James W. Foley, the Poet Laureate of North Dakota (!), must have thrown his share of pebbles into water as he thought about the impact even the tiniest participants in Creation can have on the world.

I, of course, contemplate this all the time. Whenever I think about your 19 years, I want to know that your short life meant something, and that it made a difference to have you among us.

Recently, I discovered a ripple of yours that has continued reverberating through the universe even eight years after your death. What’s magnificent about this particular ripple is that it only reached me a few weeks ago.

These events started more than ten years ago. Who knows how much of the story we got right, but there are enough people who have told me it seems to have happened this way that I feel comfortable setting it down for posterity — because if you didn’t do this, Jonah, you were certainly capable of it!

As one of my favorite Hasidic stories concludes, “They don’t tell stories like this about you or me.”

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