For quite a few seasons, you were the only thing that stood between me and your mom … at the Rosh Hashanah service for young families. It was a gig that Mom and I’d had since we’d moved back to New York in 1995. No matter what else was going on during the High Holy Days, this was our opportunity to share the bimah even if only for 45 minutes, and then, even if half our congregation was crying and wetting their pants! Our spiritual Vaudeville act overflowed with singing and storytelling, but we were delighted when 11-year old Jonah, who’d been learning how to play the shofar, joined us in September 2001. It was shortly after 9/11 and synagogues worldwide were consumed with processing our nation’s trauma. But for 3/4 of an hour, we were all smiles as you, barely able to hold my large Yemenite shofar aloft, created tiny toots (so as not to scare off the little ones in the room) followed by the longer, traditional blasts so recognizable for countless generations.
Eventually, your skills would earn you an invitation to serve as ba’al tekiya (shofar blower) for Woodlands’ main services on Rosh Hashanah and at Yom Kippur Neilah. You’d do that for one year and then never again which was, of course, vintage Jonah. As with so many of the things you loved in life, you weren’t interested in tainting your favorite activities with the distraction that came from other people relying on you too much. So for seven years, until your graduation from high school, you stood between me and your mom as a hundred little kids delighted (or so their crying and peeing seemed to indicate) in the playful toots of your truly expert shofar playing.
By the way, one year there was almost no Jonah-on-the-shofar at all. You’d found out that I’d let a bunch of kids try to get a sound out of our shofar and were thoroughly disgusted at the thought of sharing that mouthpiece after “germ warfare” had rendered it toxic. Similarly, when you were eight, our friend Josh Davidson presented you with a trumpet as a Hanukkah gift. It had been Josh’s trumpet from forever and he felt that you were the right person to give it to. For two reasons: a) Josh loved that you’d been learning to play the shofar; and, b) you shared the same initials – JMD – which was imprinted on the trumpet’s case. You were thrilled to receive the instrument but commented to me that “it looks a little old.” When I told you a polishing would make it good as new, you still couldn’t fathom ever using the mouthpiece because “it must be covered with millions of disgusting germs.” Not that I was ever privy to this, but I imagine that love’s first romantic kisses cured you of that phobia.
While I was disappointed you didn’t want to be on our main bimah, I grew to admire you for the choices you were making. You were becoming so aware of what made you feel good about yourself. It’s not that you didn’t love center-stage (as anyone who ever heard you sing “Makin’ a Motzi” can attest) but it was important to you that you protect from criticism the things (like shofar and guitar and ukulele) you so profoundly enjoyed. The “Luckiest Dad” award goes to me because I was one of the few people on the planet who got to hear you often.
But others were watching. And your “limited engagements” were making a difference in some of their lives. After you died, I received a note from a mom who wrote about attending the young families service when her children were younger. Her son became quite taken with your shofar-playing – that this “kid” could stand up and do it so well – and announced he was going to learn how to do it too … just like Jonah. And he did. Today, he’s one of the newest generation of ba’alei tekiya at Woodlands. His mom wrote, “Jonah truly inspired him to reach for and accomplish this goal.”
It seems that it doesn’t really matter so much what we do with our time, so long as we do it as well as we can, and with as much heart as we can. Someone’s always watching, and we may just be the one who, for them, makes all the difference.
Thanks for the lesson, Jo.
Love you forever,