Billy

Remembering a Good Friend

No comments

For more than a few decades, Herb Friedman has been a dear friend of the Dreskins, of The Jonah Maccabee Foundation, and of Woodlands Community Temple’s Jonah Maccabee Fund. He supported Billy as a rabbi, the many projects of the Foundation, and (most especially) the music we brought to Woodlands in support of Jonah’s fund there.

Herb died this weekend.

But what a life he lived. Devoted to family, friends and community, Herb made a real difference in this world. So many people have benefitted from his life and work that we would never be able to list them all here. Suffice it to say, we are incredibly grateful he was here and that we were lucky enough to know and love him.

In Judaism, we use the expression, “Zecher tzadik livracha … may his memory be for a blessing.” No question here. Herb was a blessing and always will be a blessing.

Here’s a list of folks who’ve contributed to The Jonah Maccabee Foundation in Herb’s memory:

Alexa Kaner
Neil L Mendick
Valerie and Bruce Cortalano
Susan Cicelsky, retired RCSD
Corporate Travel Management
Joyce and Edward Kelley … thinking of your father who has departed and yet his heart, love and teachings still live on in you
NYP Media Team
Jason Wirchin
Kay McKim … to honor a life dedicated to his family, people, education, and the Jewish life
Laurel Freeman
Harriet Kohn … in appreciation for all of Herb’s contributions to Woodlands Community Temple and, more specifically, for his support of and involvement with the temple’s Project Ezra Social Action program
The Schorr Family
Ann Dery and Charlotte Kerwick
Medugno family

We’re grateful to you all.

Ellen, Billy, Katie and Aiden Dreskin

BillyRemembering a Good Friend
read more

Just Saying Thanks

No comments

Last night, rabbi and stand-up comedian Bob Alper performed in our home to benefit Israel in its time of great and urgent need. We filled all the seats but many of you donated even though you were not able to attend. And we just want to say thanks.

Because of your generosity (and Bob Alper’s for donating his performance fee), together we raised $10,000!

Our family is immensely grateful for the faith you continually place in us. We have asked for gifts so many times across the years, and you just keep saying yes.

Because of you, we have been able to help in countless ways to make this world a better place.

Y’all are amazing.

As always, it is our privilege to stand with you in bringing increased goodness into our troubled world. We do so in Jonah’s name. We do so in your name. We do so in the name of our common humanity.

Thanks deeply,
Ellen, Billy, Katie and Aiden Dreskin
The Jonah Maccabee Foundation

BillyJust Saying Thanks
read more

Thank you … to those who, in 2024, have provided funds so we can make a difference in people’s lives

No comments

Jonah.2008.04.#008a.NFTY-NAR.SpringKallah
Gail Nalven

Rick and Elisa Recht

Anonymous … in memory of Claudia Helene Siegel

Bonnie Mitelman … in memory of Jonah Dreskin

Karen Steele

Isaac Reuben

Julie Goldstein Feldman

Naomi and Richard Binenfeld … Kol HaKavod, Billy and Ellen … and Beged Kefet’s older but still beautiful voices

Geri Pell

Corey Friedlander

Madelyn Katz

Rabbi Julian and Susie Cook … love the new song!

Rabbi Jeffrey .Clopper

Ian Silver

Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman

Anonymous

Alan and Carolyn Berkowitz … with thanks to the Dreskins and Cantor Rosalie Will for an unforgettable weekend at Temple B’nai Shalom

Barry Wallack … the few days you spent with us at Temple B’nai Shalom were just amazing!!!

The Levan clan … in memory of Linda Kaplan

The Carrolls … in honor of Katie

Anonymous

Elliott and Phyllis Rosen

The Bordwin family

Cindy J Hoffman

Karyn Rondeau Harline … in memory of Jonah

Your friends at the American Jewish Archives

Lisa Ann and Akiva Wharton

Steve Hummel and family

Adam Namm and Mei Huang … in memory of Norman Friedman

Ira Lichtiger and Joyce Bluestone

Dorothy Walrond

BillyThank you … to those who, in 2024, have provided funds so we can make a difference in people’s lives
read more

Thanks to all who have contributed to our “December ’23” Campaign

No comments

We are so grateful that you take the time and dollars to support our work. It’s incredibly gratifying and this list of donors to our “December ’23” Campaign is a small but earnest expression of our thanks. May our shared efforts bring ever-increasing goodness into a world that so desperately needs it.

The Dreskins


Glynis Conyer

Marjory Selig

Mary Ann and Gary Shamis

Anonymous

David Komerofsky & Ronit Sherwin

Linda Lucks … in honor of Rabbi Billy and Cantor Ellen Dreskin

Dan and Joy Firshein

Jan Katzew … in honor of Lanie Katzew

Charles and Nancy Fishman

Kathy and Louis Bordman … in memory of Jonah Maccabee Dreskin

Michael Mellen

Sally Winter

Roberta Roos

Darren and Elizabeth Levine … in honor of Katie Dreskin

Kenny Feldman

Rabbi Larry and Rhonda Karol

Jay and Erica Leon

Rabbi Norman M. Cohen … in memory of Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro

Rene Katersky

Bobbi Tornheim … in honor of Richard Soley

Lois and Jay Izes

Beth Sher

Don Fast

Cantor Danielle Rodnizki

Kathy Tuchman Glass

The Dreskin family (editor’s note: of Albuquerque)

Naomi and Richard Binenfeld … in celebration of our friendship with the Dreskins and in memory of Jonah’s spirit

Nicole Roos

Cantor Jill Abramson

Edward Schecter

Robbie and Nellie Harris

Julie de Winter-Stein

Kim Geringer

Marcy and Eric Silver … in honor of the Dreskin family

Dr. Helen Krim

Marsha Shapiro … in memory of Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro

Roberta Grossman

Craig Taubman … in memory of Jonah

Iris Bildstein

Rose Snitz

Rabbi Joan and Andy Farber

Angela Stone … in honor of Ellen Dreskin, my best friend in high school

Wendy Grinberg

Karen Steele

Barb and Len Stambler

Anonymous

Rabbi Susan Marks and Mr. Bruce Black

Joel and Pam Chernoff

Kyla and Mitchell Schneider … in honor of the Dreskin Family and all of their good works!

Jeanne and Jay

Rabbi Mo Salth

Ruth Rugoff and Joe + Annie Potischman … in honor of the Dreskin family

Renni Altman and Rick Wender … in honor of Daniel Wender

Linda Harvey … in honor of Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman

Robin Sacharoff … in memory of Rita and Howard Sacharoff, Shirley Hunter, Rosalind Sloane, Mimi Boonshoft and Lois O’Neil

Ilene Berger

Norman and Terry Cohen

Vivian and David Singer

Rabbi Mara, Mark, Noah and Asher Young

Mark Kamins

Rabbi Hillel Cohn

Jo and Frank Hariton

Peter and Sandy Rosenthal

Rabbi Beth D. Davidson

Sue and Tom Schaeffer

Naomi S Morse

Josh Perlstein

Jeanne and Murray Bodin

Rabbi Norman and Andrea Cohen … in memory of Rabbi David Ellenson

Myron Katz … in memory of Rina Katz

Neil and Denise Weinstein

Ellen G. K. Rubin … in honor of the Dreskins

Jessica and Chuck Myers

Carol Scharff

Merri Rosenberg

Nir Topper

Rena Dreskin Schoenberg … in memory of Jonah Maccabee Dreskin

Justine Berkowicz

Rabbi Larry Milder

Corey Friedlander … in honor of all of you!

CTM (Corporate Travel Management) … in memory of Norman Friedman

Jeremy Woolfe … honoring Rabbi Larry Hoffman on his retirement

Marc Rosenstein

Madeline Hendricks Lewen

Holly and Scott Rubin … in memory of Jonah Maccabee

Jody and Michael Weinberg

Carol Ochs

Joan Dreskin Funk

Cantor Benjie Schiller and Rabbi Lester Bronstein

Sharol Brickman

Dan and Kelly Kaskawits … in memory of Tammy Kaskawits

Terri and Steve Levin

The Klapman and Kaufman families … in memory of Norman Friedman

Cantor Lisa Levine

Wendy Jennis and Doug Mishkin

Rabbi Jonah Pesner and Dana Gershon

Herb Friedman … in memory of my brother, Norm

Marian Milbauer … in honor of Mickey Milbauer for her contributions to making the world a better place

Abby and Harry Heiman

The Maxwell Sedel Family Foundation

Marilyn and Jeff Bilsky

Mildred Richter

Sue Shankman and Michael Namath

Evan and Faye Friedman … in memory of Norman Friedman

Tracy Friend

Anonymous … in memory of Jonah Dreskin

Lees Family

Roberta and Roger Wetherbee

Anonymous

Cantor Richard and Marsha Cohn

Barry and Joanne Citrin

The Kaminskas family … in memory of Chris Kaminskas

Bari Ziegel

Morris L Kramer

Jeffrey Nakrin

Adrian Durlester

Harvey Feldman

Alice Passer and Barry Krieger … in memory of David Passer and Jonah Dreskin

The Levine family … in honor of Rabbi Billy

The Cattans … in memory of Fred Rothschild

Allison Pincus and Matt Scult … in memory of Jonah Dreskin

Dan Pliskin family

Pietra, Alan, and Ben Cohen … in honor of Ben’s graduating from high school

Kim Geringer

Nina Luban and Scott Bonci … in memory of Jonah Maccabee

Geri Pell

Patti Linsky

Tony and Selena Barron

Gail Nalven

Henry and Diana Asher

Eileen Reiter

Dale Glasser

Jordy and Beth Sperber Richie

Andrew Katz and Susannah Sagan

Kenny Green … in memory of Jonah Maccabee Dreskin

Addie and Rick Lupert

 

BillyThanks to all who have contributed to our “December ’23” Campaign
read more

With Your Help, Here’s What We Accomplished In 2023

1 comment

Dear friends,

It’s been a tumultuous year, to be sure. So much fear and so much suffering. But throughout it all, there are always lights of hope, people like you who care, who want to do something to make the world better, and who succeed. These individuals may not finish the task, but they most certainly move it along.

The Jonah Maccabee Foundation seeks out such folks and, in partnership with YOU, we award grants, financial assistance that won’t finish the task but will move things along.

With abundant gratitude for your support, here’s how we used your donations in 2023:

In Israel and Gaza …

  • IsraAID … partnering with local organizations and civil society initiatives in Israel’s south, focusing on psychosocial support, stress relief activities, and relief supplies as needed
  • American Near East Refugee Aid (Anera) … provides humanitarian and development aid to the Middle East, specifically the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Jordan
  • Just One Chesed … providing Israeli soldiers and civilians with life-saving medical, tactical, and other essentials
  • Friends of IDF … works closely with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to provide for the well-being of its soldiers, veterans, and family members through educational, financial, spiritual, and cultural initiatives
  • Rabbis for Human Rights … an Israeli organization that works within the Occupied Territories to promote social and economic justice within Israel

In Ukraine …

  • Ukraine Children’s Action Project … works in Ukraine and Poland with a wide range of organizations and government agencies to help address the critical and growing needs of traumatized Ukrainian kids who are exposed to the unrelenting attacks of the Russian military
  • Shelter Friend – Ukraine … helping sick and injured stray animals in Dneproperovsk city, Ukraine, that have been caught in the crossfire of the armed conflict there
  • United 24 … the official fundraising platform of the nation of Ukraine, allows for the world to unite in protecting, supporting and rebuilding Ukraine during its battle to defend itself from Russian assault
  • IsraAID … throughout the conflict in Ukraine, IsraAID has provided essential services at the Moldovan border for fleeing refugees, established in Romania a supply chain for humanitarian aid into southern Ukraine, and has provided mental health and psychosocial support training in Ukraine itself for psychologists and social workers in Irpin and Bucha, cities in Kyiv region that saw the large-scale loss of civilian life

America’s ongoing immigration crisis …

  • Woodlands Community Temple (White Plains, NY) … with asylum seeking refugees that were bused to New York from Texas and Florida arriving to the Rivertowns (Ardsley, Irvington, Dobbs Ferry and more), families have been welcomed with open arms, The Jonah Maccabee Foundation providing grants to supplement meals, education and cultural events
  • Grannies Respond NYC … formed in response to the separation of families seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border in 2018, provides compassionate and respectful support for asylum seekers and immigrants who seek safety and security in the United States

In Turkey and Syria …

  • The White Helmets … benefitting from your donations to our Earthquake Relief campaign in February, The White Helmets are an all-volunteer relief organization on the ground in Syria, rescuing victims from the destruction there and then helping to rebuild lives in the earthquake’s aftermath
  • IsraAID … also benefitting from your donations to our Earthquake Relief campaign, volunteers from Israel have brought help to Syria, regardless of the ongoing discord between these two nations
  • Embrace Relief … receiving a grant from JMF on your behalf, this Turkish-American relief organization has partnered with other organizations and has sent their own volunteers to bring help to earthquake-ravaged Turkey
  • Bridge to Turkiye … , a Turkish-American relief organization that partners with other organizations to get the help to where it’s most needed
  • Oxfam America … this well-known super-hunger assistance organization works with partners to provide nearly two million survivors in the worst-affected areas of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria with clean water, food, shelter, blankets, and psychological support
  • Syrian American Medical Society Foundation … provides medical relief and healthcare to innocent civilians affected by the Syrian earthquake
  • World Central Kitchen … responded to the earthquake in Turkey in Syria by organizing teams of food first responders to get meals to the people who need them most

And so many other places that need your help …

  • Play Group Theatre … “preparing kids for every stage in life,” PGT understands that rather than the show what’s most important when kids do theatre is learning collaboration, sharpening listening skills, embracing creativity, and treating one another with honor
  • 6 Points Creative Arts Academy … a summer camp that strives to create holistic, meaningful experiences for young artists in a living laboratory for learning and performing
  • Judaism Alive … identifies, trains, promotes, and places young leaders in Jewish organizations throughout North America to keep the spirit of Judaism alive for future generations
  • Music to Life … finds and supports artists who are dedicated to helping people and the planet through their work on civil and human rights, climate change, poverty and health
  • Braver Angels … addressing the challenge of bringing together Americans who not only disagree on political issues but increasingly dislike each other
  • Mississippi River Network … disproportionately and unjustly impacted by pollution, public health disparities, and economic injustices, communities of color along the Mississippi River benefit from the efforts of the MRN which works for the well-being of the people, land, water, and wildlife of America’s largest watershed
  • Lifting Up Westchester Summer Camp and Youth Services … gives children who are experiencing homelessness in Westchester County, New York, a safe space filled with fun and games, plus literacy activities that help them retain the past year’s school lessons, preparing for success when the new school year begins, then stays with them to help ensure success throughout the entire year
  • Dream Street Foundation … provides camping programs for children and young adults with chronic and life threatening illnesses
  • Sing Unto God … works to elevate the practice of communal singing and meaningful worship for any person, congregation, or community wanting to learn about or experience the transformative power of uniting voices
  • Harmony Project … provides no-cost, high-quality music instruction and social support to underserved children in low-income communities, motivating them to cultivate their human potential
  • Food Bank for NYC … working to end food poverty in New York City’s five boroughs by helping low-income New Yorkers overcome their circumstances and achieve greater independence
  • National Diaper Network … provides basic necessities required to build the strong foundations all children, families, and individuals need to thrive and reach their full potential
  • The Tali Fund … in memory of Talia Faith Agler, supports Tali’s ongoing work and dreams, helping fund the Talia Agler Girls Shelter in Nairobi, Kenya
  • MindLeaps … creates educational paths for vulnerable children by engaging them in fun dance classes that are part of a carefully crafted curriculum to develop key cognitive and social-emotional skills vital to success in school and work
  • The Penguin Project … provides theatrical outlets across the country for young artists with developmental disabilities, joined onstage by children without disabilities who work side-by-side through rehearsals and performances
  • United Negro College Fund …awards more than 10,000 students scholarships annually, and provides financial support to 37 historically black colleges and universities
  • The PICO Union Project … distributes free, fresh produce, mentors high school students, plants gardens and trees, and provides art programs to lift the minds and spirits of the immigrant communities living in the El Pueblo district in Los Angeles
  • Lifting Up Westchester Summer Camp … gives children who are experiencing homelessness in Westchester County, New York, a safe space filled with fun and games, plus literacy activities that help them retain the past year’s school lessons, preparing for success when the new school year begins
  • Morningside Farm Sanctuary … an all-species animal sanctuary located in Veneta, Oregon, whose animals arrive through medical surrender or seizure, abandonment, feed lots, auction yards, hoarder cases and other conditions

We hope you feel as good about these grants as we do. Thank you so much for supporting us. We’re grateful to have you with us as we carry forward Jonah’s legacy — his zest for living and his passion for goodness — and, together, work to improve the lives of young people everywhere.

Wishing you every goodness,
Ellen, Billy, Katie and Aiden
The Jonah Maccabee Foundation

BillyWith Your Help, Here’s What We Accomplished In 2023
read more

UPDATE: House Concert featuring Daniel Cainer … SOLD OUT!

No comments

WE ARE SOLD OUT!

If you’d like to be placed on our waiting list, go ahead and make your reservation.
jonahmac.org/danielcainer
We’ll let you know if anyone can’t make it and seats open up.

We will certainly continue to accept donations (you can use the same form)
to help us assist asylum-seekers. Thank you!

 

In concert (heh, a pun) with the Woodlands Community Temple Social Action Committee, we are so very delighted to invite you to stop by our home in Ardsley, New York, on Thursday, July 20 (7:30 pm dessert, 8:00 pm concert) for a wonderful evening of good company, tasty desserts and great music.

When we learned that our old friend, Daniel Cainer, was coming to town (from England no less!), we knew we had to give y’all an opportunity to meet him and enjoy him as much as we always have.

And it’s a benefit concert! With asylum-seeking immigrants landing in cities all across the country, it’s become important to help where one can. Here in Ardsley, there are 66 men, women and children who have arrived from all across the world. They have entered legally and are now awaiting their day in court hoping to be formally and permanently welcomed to our Land of Opportunity. Meanwhile, there are meals to be made, clothing to be purchased, toys to be played with, and legal counsel to help present their cases. All of this costs money and The Jonah Maccabee Foundation would like to help. Hopefully you’d like to help too.

If you’re available and can join us, stop by jonahmac.org/danielcainer to make your reservation. Even if you can’t attend, please consider making a donation there to help these folks. 100% of the proceeds from the concert will be used to support these community guests.

As with the story of the child throwing a starfish back into the ocean, we may not be able to help everybody but we might be able to help a few. [Someone told the child, “Why do you throw them back into the ocean? There are so many. You can’t possibly help them all.” Said the child, “But I can help this one.”]

Whether you can make the concert or can just send a few dollars to help out, please visit jonahmac.org/danielcainer and donate today.

Thank you.

Your grandmother would be so proud!

BillyUPDATE: House Concert featuring Daniel Cainer … SOLD OUT!
read more

Part FOUR: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye

3 comments

University at Buffalo (Feb 2009)[This is Part Four. Part One is here.]

Dear Jonah,

Numbers can be useful. They’re able to confirm a point, even if they’re far less interesting than the point itself. I’ve got some numbers to share with you. In a minute.

You were only 19 years old when you died. Your life had really only just begun. You’d left home six months earlier to embark upon the next chapters in your life: college and whatever lay beyond. I remember your telling us that we could do whatever we wanted with the stuff you left at home: nearly everything from what we’d just begun describing as “your childhood.”

Who would have dared imagine that the stuff you had discarded would become sacred keepsakes for us of the life you had once lived … and that, except for the little bit you had taken or accumulated while at college, this – plus our memories and our love, of course – was all we’d have left of you. Forever. From March 5, 2009 and onward, there would be nothing new generated from your life. Unbelievably (as it would be for any parent), for you there would be no more life.

In the early 2000s, society’s ability to document itself would be forever changed and amplified by the arrival of the iPhone. Every moment, worth recording or not, would be photographed and video’d ad nauseum, so much so that an entirely new market would open up purporting to save and organize people’s digital media so they wouldn’t have to bother doing so themselves.

In 2008, you hadn’t yet obtained an iPhone. You were still using an “old” model along with a small digital camera that you happened to have used for picture-taking as much as people today use their smartphones.

Okay, here come the numbers.

After you died, I began curating your life. If all I had left were the digital files that had documented much of your existence, I was going to do everything I could to preserve them. By the way, the blessing that came out of this manic effort was that I also organized our entire family’s digital life into a filing system that rivals the Library of Congress. You’re all welcome.

From the very beginning of your story (February 1990)

Okay, ready? Over these past fourteen years I have gathered, labeled and filed 18,341 photos and 2,010 videos that were taken by either you, a friend of yours, or a member of our family. These do not include the many images from our general family collection in which you also appear.

I’ve also filed 22,531 documents (school papers, stuff from theatre, youth group and camp, as well as birthday cards, Facebook posts and so much more). Yep, I went a little crazy in those first months after you died. I was determined to lose nothing else that had been generated by your existence.

Of all the stuff I accumulated, however, I think my favorite is the single piece of notebook paper that I kept in my back pocket during those first weeks after you were gone. Each time I, or someone else, remembered something about your life – something you did, something you enjoyed, or something you said – I wrote it down. In not much time at all, I ran out of space on that piece of paper and started, yep, a digital file preserving every memory anyone shared about you.

It turns out, that was a very good idea. Fourteen years later, those memories have begun to fade. Some I remember generally but the details have grown hazy. Others I don’t remember at all. But all I have to do is open that file and there you are again.

That single text document is now 168 pages long, and totals 101,718 words.

That’s a lot of memories I get to hold onto and, for anyone who’s been reading my letters to you over the years, it’s a lot of memories I can share with others.

To those very happy days in college (Feb 2009)

In Sarah Wildman’s New York Times essay, “My Daughter’s Future Was Taken From Her, and From Us” (May 19, 2023), she writes, “The peculiarity of grieving an adolescent is that there is still so much Orli to absorb. Some of it comes by way of anecdotes offered by friends and acquaintances, some from her written journals. A vast majority of it is from her phone, which is alive with her photos and videos. […] But the stories in Orli’s phone are finite. I have all the Orli photos I will ever have. I can only look backward. [….] I cannot finish the stories she started.”

Here is where Sarah Wildman (whose grief journey has only just begun) and I are on the same page. No matter how much time has passed, the past is fixed. There are only so many photographs, so many videos, so many memories to hold onto. Sure, once in a blue moon someone tells me something I hadn’t known before. Those moments are rather incredible because while I know there’s so much more about your life that I wasn’t privy to, I’m no longer expecting such anecdotes to surface (although, if anyone has a photograph or a video or a story that you would like to share, please be in touch – you hold the power to amaze).

My obsession, Jonah, with organizing your life is no longer anywhere nearly as compulsive as it once was. And yet, it remains crucial for me to know all of that information is safely protected and that my memories of you, while fading a bit in my own aging brain, will be around for a long, long time to come.

I don’t feel the same need as I once did to play your videos or to read your clever Facebook comments. I think it’s important that you’ve quieted down in my life. It lets me carry on a bit more successfully. Satisfyingly. Less haunted by your not being here.

“Carry on,” not “move on.” I will never move on, JoJo. I will never leave you behind. I will carry you with me always. What else can I do? I love you too much to move on.

So I carry you with me. I go where I want to go. Where I need to go. Sometimes I take you out and share you with people. Lots of times I don’t. But you’re always there. Always with me.

Always.

You and I, and so many people who loved you, have gone on quite a journey these past fourteen years. A journey that Sarah Wildman has just begun.

Once upon a time, it was such a hard journey for me. Now it’s quiet and reflective but one that hasn’t ended. Nor can I imagine it ever will. I’ve gotten quite used to it and welcome traveling with you in whatever manner I can.

You’re my kid. And as every one of these letters has concluded, I will always …

Love you forever,
Dad

BillyPart FOUR: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye
read more

Part THREE: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye

2 comments

University at Buffalo (Feb 2009)[This is Part Three. Part One is here.]

Dear Jonah,

When friends come over to our house they pretty much all notice how many family photographs we have. They’re everywhere! On the shelves, on the walls, in the bedrooms, in our studies. And you’re in a ton of them.

We’ve never hurried to put you away, Jo. We left your bedroom untouched for the longest time because we loved sitting in there and being with you. It’s only in the last few years that we’ve made any changes. And while lots of your stuff has been removed (no more scantily-clad women pasted to the blades of the ceiling fan), there’s still plenty of you in there (some of your posters, your books, your couch and more).

Why? Because we like having you around. And obviously we can’t literally have you with us, so we draw some joy and sustenance from stuff that was part of your life.

In the movies, when someone dies clothing seems to be the first thing to go. We took a good long time before giving yours away. I remember finally donating your heavy-duty winter coat that, for years, we knew we’d distribute to someone living homeless on the streets of New York City but we’d hesitated (an understatement) because (is this odd?) we loved the smell of you that was on everything of yours. It wasn’t until your scent started fading away that we could really consider letting your clothes move on and do some good out in the world.

By the way, it was the same with your bed. I used to love laying my head on your pillow because I could smell you there. And believe you me, there were times when I wanted you back so desperately that I pressed myself hard into those sheets and blankets probably hoping I could trick time and space into giving you back. When that little bit of you finally dissipated, I knew it was okay for the bed to go.

In Sarah Wildman’s New York Times essay, “My Daughter’s Future Was Taken From Her, and From Us” (May 19, 2023), she writes, “There is a blurry quality to time now. The other night, I took a dance class thinking I would focus on movement — until I signed in and realized it was the very studio where Orli danced until she first fell ill.”

I remember how painful it sometimes was to be in the places where you had been. The synagogue where you’d grown up (and where I worked nearly seven days a week your entire life). The community theatre program where, throughout high school, you spent more time “in production” than you did at home (quotation marks because you’d show up there for absolutely any reason, no matter who asked). The restaurants, movie theatres and shops our family had frequented. And the roads that you and I drove each morning to meet your school bus. In the first year after your death, all of these evoked powerfully emotional responses each time I came upon them.

Which isn’t to say I avoided the places where you had been. To the contrary, I wanted to see them. I wanted to feel how much I missed you. I wasn’t interested in numbness (which is a very common sensation during grief and I remember it well from the early days after you’d died). In my mind, numbness shut you out and I most definitely wanted you with me in whatever ways possible. So as painful as it sometimes was to drive those roads (and there were times when I had to pull over for a good cry) I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Age one at camp, Jonah as a newly-minted staff brat.

Except when I couldn’t. Case in point, the summer camp where you had been a staff brat for years (while Mom and I served on faculty) until you were old enough to be hired on staff yourself. I simply couldn’t manage the bottomless chasm of emotion that took a profound and heart-wrenching toll on me during that next summer just a few months after you’d died. Every inch of that camp was filled with indelible memories of you. You as a two-year old, as a ten-year old, as a fifteen-year old, as an eighteen-year old, and every age in between. There was simply no respite and it was exhausting. So after only a few days, with apologies I excused myself and returned home.

Fourteen years later I can’t say those feelings have completely disappeared. One, they haven’t. They just haven’t. And two, I still don’t want them to. Something in the feelings of you that these places evoke helps to keep the memory of you alive. If the place were no longer to affect me, I might feel like I’ve betrayed you.

That wouldn’t be true, of course. Feelings are feelings, and they don’t have to mean anything else. After all, one ought not live life in perpetual mourning.

I’m pretty sure you’d understand. After all, how could I possibly survive living in the house you grew up in if those reminders never quieted down? I love still being in the your childhood home. I love seeing you and remembering you in all our house’s nooks and crannies. You’re not haunting me all the time, Jonah, but I love when you do.

That being said, I understand the difficulty Sarah Wildman is having. She and I both see ghosts. For her, where others watch their feet trying to move to the right places so it can be called dancing, she sees her daughter. And because it’s so soon after her daughter’s death, it’s hard, perhaps impossibly hard.

For me, where others are watching the unfolding of synagogue life, I see you. I see you strumming your guitar (my guitar that you would steal from my study!). I see you drawing during services because you would otherwise not be able to sit still. I see you leading a group of younger kids in crazy singalongs and how much they adore you. I see you tutoring young students and the regard they have for you. I see you sitting in my chair, taking it away from me with that mischievous smile that says with no words whatsoever, “You know you love me!”

I still see your ghost, Jonah. But these days, it only rarely makes me cry. Fourteen years later, the raw, heart-broken anguish of your absence no longer consumes me. I still miss you, but any lingering grief has been (mostly) woven into the fuller tapestry of my life. My sadness at losing you is alloyed with the thrill of watching Katie and Aiden enjoying their lives. My sorrow is forever and thankfully mixed with my joy.

Perhaps my greatest achievement in the aftermath of your death is that there is an abundance of joy in remembering you. I don’t just cry at how you died. I smile and laugh at how you lived. I don’t just regret that you are gone. I am forever grateful that you were here.

It’s been said, “When someone you treasure becomes a memory, their memory becomes a treasure.” It’s not necessarily an easy road to get from one side to the other. But with time and a growing understanding of the full picture of a person’s life – yours, Jonah – it can be done.

Love you forever, boy. Thank you for giving me so much to treasure.

I’ll write the final piece soon.

Love you forever,
Dad

[Part Four is here.]

BillyPart THREE: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye
read more

Part TWO: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye

No comments

University at Buffalo (Feb 2009)[This is Part Two. Part One is here.]

Dear Jonah,

Once upon a time, in addition to being a very young father I was also a very young rabbi. You met me as an inexperienced, wet-behind-the-ears clergyperson just learning how to do the job. Of course, you knew nothing about my rabbinic abilities; you simply loved coming to see your dad at temple, interrupting whatever “important” business I was up to and jumping into my arms or, even better, having me lift you atop my shoulders.

One of my very favorite temple moments from back then was when you showed up for “Aladdin Purim” and got to meet a more-than-lifesized version of Abu, Aladdin’s companion monkey. Completely covered from the top of my head on down, I wasn’t at all certain you even knew it was me. But you sure did love climbing into that monkey’s arms, almost as if your own favorite Curious George doll had suddenly come to life.

David Berger Memorial. Note the shattered rings of the Olympic symbol.

About that same time, I remember meeting, and from time-to-time watching from afar, the parents of one of the Israeli athletes who had been murdered at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Seventeen years had passed since their son was stolen from them and while they were lovely, kind people, I always felt that a light had gone out in their lives and that it had stayed out.

How could I possibly have known that twenty years later I would be faced with my own child’s light going out?

In Sarah Wildman’s New York Times essay, “My Daughter’s Future Was Taken From Her, and From Us” (May 19, 2023), she writes, “The loss of Orli is a phantom limb that wakes me in the night or, sometimes, lies dormant with me for hours; I never know which will happen. Seeing old friends recently I joked, dry-eyed, about the wonder and terror of the first seven days of Jewish mourning — the shiva — being like a sort of cocktail party in hell.”

Shiva is a curious custom. At what, for many, is the very worst moment of their life, the doors of their home are opened to the public. The aim is to bring comfort or at least companionship, and perhaps distraction, during these incredibly sad days following the death of a loved one. At the same time, however, there can be a zoo-like feeling to shiva, that you’ve been put on display not just for close friends and family but for anyone who walks through that door. The desire to hide in the back of the house for at least a few minutes (if not days) might not be an uncommon feeling for those sitting shiva.

For me, shiva was an emotional and, surprisingly, at times an uplifting experience. So many people in our home – most just wanting to tell us how sorry they were, but so many also wanting to tell us how they knew you and how much they loved you or were grateful for something you had done for them.

I remember thinking that, at age 19, there was so much we no longer knew about you simply by virtue of the recent liberation that had come with your growing up and beginning to live a life that no longer relied on Mom and Dad either approving of, or driving you to, the places you wanted to be. To hear so many wonderful accounts of how you lived and how you treated others was both stunning (I mean, what parent doesn’t want to know that their offspring is beloved?) and startling. My little boy, who had been quite the devil when he was younger, wasn’t just an angel in heaven; he’d first become one right here on earth.

I think that might have been the beginning of my shaping the memories of you that I would want to hold close in the years following your death. I was learning about a Jonah who, although gone, was bringing smiles to my face and making me feel so incredibly proud of the person, of the mensch, that you had become.

Yes, of course there would be moments, even days, of horror as our family suffered the immutable reality that in an instant you had been taken from us and we weren’t getting you back (tho God knows, for a good while I tried to convince God to do exactly that).

I remember a surrealistic walk that I took in a rainstorm where I cried so intensely over your absence and yet I was unable to differentiate between the teardrops and the raindrops. That was probably an apt metaphor for just how overwhelming it was in those early days to come to terms with your dying.

But here and now, fourteen years later, I’m in such a different place.

Wildman writes, “The loss of Orli is a phantom limb that wakes me in the night or, sometimes, lies dormant with me for hours; I never know which will happen.”

For quite a while, nighttime was a mysterious ride into the chambers of my heart. While I never much saw you in my dreams, there were just a few times that I did and it was both sweet and terrible. Like a mirage, your appearance seemed so real and I reveled in the euphoria of your reconstituted presence. But it was impossible to hold you, let alone hold onto you. I loved those dreams, but I hated them too. I loathed waking up to the unlovely truth that you were still no longer alive.

And yet, I also remember sometimes waking up in the morning and how normal life felt in the few seconds before I remembered you were gone. Like one of Buber’s I-Thou moments, experiencing God’s presence but only knowing that after the moment had passed, I loved those brief respites when everything was right in the world, and I was tortured by them because I never understood how profound they were until they had passed.

Wildman describes shiva as “being like a sort of cocktail party in hell.”

In truth, the whole first leg of the grief-journey was like that. An overabundance of pain surrounded by, at its worst, so many people whose lives hadn’t been upended by tragedy and, at its very best, so much love that had come through the door for the express reason to help me and my family survive our loss.

Fourteen years later, I’m not over you, JoJo. That will never happen. But I believe that I’ve completed the worst of the grief-journey. And I’m so grateful for that “cocktail party in hell” and every kindness that was extended to us in the days and months after you’d left us.

But perhaps more than anything else, it was the beautiful soul that you had become, and the lives that you had touched in such unforgettable ways and thus gave so many stories to the folks who came to shiva and shared them with us. Yes, they made us sorrier than ever that your life had been cut short. But they also made us feel so lucky to know that you had lived a good life, a life that meant something … to you and to those who knew you.

I’m more grateful for that than anything else. It’s what has allowed me spend these last fourteen years honoring the life that you lived instead of just grieving your death.

Thanks, young man. You did just great. I couldn’t be prouder of my boy.

I’ll write more soon.

Love you forever,
Dad

[Part Three is here.]

BillyPart TWO: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye
read more

Thanks to all who have contributed to our “Summer ’23” Campaign

No comments

We are so grateful that you take the time and dollars to support our work. It’s incredibly gratifying and this list of donors to our “Summer ’23” Campaign is a small but earnest expression of our thanks. May our shared efforts bring ever-increasing goodness into a world that so desperately needs it.

The Dreskins


Roberta J Wetherbee

Lori and Tony Dreskin … in memory of Jonah

Naomi and Richard Binenfeld

Al and Sara Dreskin

Susan and Tom Schaeffer

Nicole Roos

Rabbi Larry Karol

Mattie and David Paul … in memory of Susan Sirkman

Julie and Scott Stein

Melissa Kaye-Swift

Jayne Wexler … in honor of Jonah and the Dreskins

Mary Ann Shamis

Jonathan Kessel … in honor of the memories I have of the great relationship between Herm Dreskin and Sol Kessel

The New Mexico Dreskins

Geri Pell

Eric and Marcy Silver … in honor of the Dreskin family and all the good that they do!

Mark S. Anshan and Brenda Spiegler … in honor of Ellen and Billy

Pietra, Alan, and Ben Cohen …  in honor of Ben on graduating high school

Deborah Halpern … in honor of Billy and Ellen

Stephen and Marjorie Richards

Anonymous

Tracy Friend

Susan and Steve Schwartz … in honor of Barbara and Larry Shuman, in gratitude

Dan Nichols

Louis and Kathy Bordman

Dana Anesi

Ruth Rugoff and Joe + Annie Potischman … in honor of Jonah Dreskin and his dear family

Matthew Grob

Cantor Lisa Levine

Molly Rodriguez

Steven Klaper … in memory of Rabbi Shaya Isenberg

Rene Katersky … in honor of Ellen Dreskin, teacher extraordinaire!

Lew Wyman and Susan Newman

Joan and Andy Farber

Jan and Lanie Katzew … in honor of Lanie and Sarit Katzew

Vivian and David Singer

Herb Friedman

The Sommer family

Bob Emerman

Harriet Levine

Merri Rosenberg

Michael Skloff

Regina H Silitch … in memory of Aidan Cameron Silitch

Carol Scharff

Dassi Citron

Kenneth I Green

Beth D. Davidson

Karen Steele

Lois and Jay Izes … in honor of the Dreskin family

David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik

Justine Berkowicz

Ilene Berger

Marcy Kadin

Marta Kauffman

The Dowdle family … in memory of Jonah Dreskin

Dr. Isabelle Ganz … in memory of Abbie Lipschutz

Holly Desnet-Rubin and Scott Rubin … in memory of Jonah

Corey Friedlander … in honor of the Dreskin family

Marc Rosenstein

Cantor Todd Kipnis

Michael Ochs … in memory of Marvin Ochs

Irv and Angela Adler … in memory of Feige Adler and Joey Bochicchio

Charles and Nancy Fishman

Barbara Stambler … in honor of Marcy Kadin on her retirement

Jane Emmer and Stu Tygert

Anonymous

Jacy Good

Judy Mann

Kathy Tuchman Glass

Sally Winter

Michael Mellen

Robbie Harris

Beth Sher

Rebecca Schwartz

Rabbi David Gelfand

Cantor Danielle Rodnizki

Roberta Grossman

Alice Passer and Barry Krieger … in memory of David Passer on the 65th anniversary of his birth … we miss you every day

Linda Harvey

David Komerofsky … in honor of the Dreskins

Maurice Salth

Jeremy M Wolfe … in memory of Robert Hausman

Louise and Craig Taubman … in memory of Jonah

The American Jewish Archives, Dr. Gary P. Zola, Executive Director

Martha Dubinsky Witkowski

Jeanne and Murray Bodin

Roberta Roos

BillyThanks to all who have contributed to our “Summer ’23” Campaign
read more