On January 23, 2010, my family and I were privileged to join with 500 very kind and generous folks (plus hundreds of supporters, also kind and generous, who could not make it but sent donations to support the Jonah Maccabee Fund) for the 1st Annual Jonah Maccabee Dreskin Memorial Concert. The evening featured the remarkably beautiful and spirited music of Dan Nichols and Josh Nelson. Among so many wonderful pieces shared throughout the evening, Dan and Josh presented “Turn the World Around,” the piece Jonah had been invited to help play (via ukulele) at Dan’s Kutz Camp concert in June 2005 (see “Pick Pocket,” June 15, 2009, for this story).
Everywhere in the concert, Josh and Dan were incredibly sensitive and moving in their words. Both longtime friends of the Dreskin family, they each had their personal connection to Jonah (Dan’s from Kutz in 2005, and Josh’s from the Maccabi Arts Festival in 2007). So this was much more than an evening of good music; the love and the longing for Jonah thoroughly filled the air. Each member of my family had dear friends in the room that night who held us aloft as we shed our inevitable tears during this memorable and touching evening. By rights, it should have included Jonah who would have had a blast. More than a few have said to us that he did.
At the top of the second set, we welcomed Cliff Mays, Jonah’s guitar teacher from the 9th through 12th grades. As I mentioned in Cliff’s introduction, he may very well have been the only person on the planet for whom Jonah did any homework. This was mostly because Jonah always enjoyed sitting in front of his computer monitor, playing his electric guitar (never amplified) while waiting for game scenarios to load every few minutes. The week following Jonah’s death, Cliff told us he’d written a song. At the concert this week, he told me, “You know, in my faith Jonah is just fine. I wrote this song for you.” [By the way, in my faith Jonah is also just fine. It doesn’t stop me from missing him and from crying for him. But the pain is mine, not his.] At the concert, Cliff also said to me, “I never had a title that felt right for the song. But tonight I heard you refer to Jonah as Jonah Mac. Now I’ve got the title.” So Cliff and his band, Rockmitzvah, presented “Jonah Mac,” a hauntingly poignant rock-ballad that includes the lyrics, “I hear your voice on the wind. I hear you laughing again. I feel you in the rain like it’s never gonna change. I know that time will creep by. Another day, another heavy sigh. Now I know that even God must cry when an angel takes flight.”
There were not many words spoken about Jonah Mac during the concert. After all, it was supposed to be about great music and camp scholarships. So Ellen and I began the evening by sharing in Havdalah, bidding goodbye to Shabbat with all of our gathered friends, Dan and Josh leading the music. Ellen and I spoke a few words to try and set the tone for the evening, which I’ve included here:
“In the midst of winter, I discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.” These words, penned by French author and philosopher Albert Camus, touch upon two of the predominant roads our family has traveled since the death of our son and our brother, Jonah Maccabee.
On the one hand, our journeys have been plunged into a bitter, cold and dark winter as we’ve struggled to learn how to live without our sweet Jonah by our sides. His presence had been such a powerful and joyful one, and we continue to stagger beneath the simply unfathomable prospect of moving on without him.
At the same time, we have never been alone in our anguish. Each one of you has been with us, fearlessly taking our hands and helping us to negotiate the rocky path that leads toward well-being. Like Camus, we have found there is indeed, in the midst of our winter, a precious and invincible summer. We are blessed to have you with us. Tonight. Eleven months ago. And in the times ahead.
Our Havdalah this evening not only marks the end of Shabbat and the beginning of a new week. It is also, we believe, a reminder of all the times we journey between two worlds. None of us escape all sorrow; the light and the dark envelop us all. Yet throughout, there is the choice, always the choice, of how to respond. Through wine and candle and spice, Jewish tradition chooses life.
When the day of rest is ended, choose sweetness, warmth and openness to all of life’s offerings. Do not settle for kodesh, for holiness, on holy days alone. But transform the ordinary, the khol, into holiness as well. Just as the ordinary memories of our beautiful son and brother have now become sacred memories, holy memories, let every page of our lives become sacred text. Let us not squander a single moment. Let us make a Havdalah, a separation, that pushes all of life into the realm of abundant blessing.
While Jonah was not explicitly at the center of the evening, he was most definitely on everybody’s mind and in everyone’s heart. For good and for other, that’s kind of the way things are becoming. More and more, we are living our lives, but not a day (sometimes not an hour) goes by without that sweet, funny guy coming to mind. Ofttimes this brings tears, but other times it’s as it was so often in life, he brings us smiles. Both are exquisitely precious gifts nothing could ever persuade us to trade away. And so, as he did in life, Jonah continues to help us all make that havdalah and push all of life into the realm of abundant blessing.
P.S. If you’d like to see the program booklet, click here. As always, we are so appreciative of your gifts to The Jonah Maccabee Foundation that help provide summer opportunities and more in the arts, in social activism, and in Jewish life.