UPDATE: House Concert featuring Daniel Cainer … SOLD OUT!

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If you’d like to be placed on our waiting list, go ahead and make your reservation.
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 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 and donate today.

Thank you.

Your grandmother would be so proud!

BillyUPDATE: House Concert featuring Daniel Cainer … SOLD OUT!
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Part FOUR: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye


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.


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,

BillyPart FOUR: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye
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Part THREE: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye


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,

[Part Four is here.]

BillyPart THREE: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye
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Part TWO: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye

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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,

[Part Three is here.]

BillyPart TWO: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye
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Thanks to all who have contributed to our “Summer ’23” Campaign

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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


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


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
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Part ONE: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye

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University at Buffalo (Feb 2009)Dear Jonah,

Has it really been fourteen years since you died? I suppose so.

I remember that night like it was yesterday. The images from those first twenty-four hours, the tornado of emotions and events, the sudden and overwhelming sense of loss, the sudden and unfathomable sadness that descended on our family – these are indelible.

But there is an insistent thought that also persists: Have I somehow betrayed your memory these fourteen years? Recollections have begun to fade. I no longer carry the many details of your nineteen years that were once so vital to my active crusade to preserve what I could of your life. Even as I read back the hundreds of thousands of words that I’ve written across this past decade and more, I wonder if I could have gotten some of that wrong.

The creeping realization is that yes, I could have. Because at this point in time I can no longer swear by what I’ve written down; only God knows the irrefutable facts of your story and, much as I may have tried, there are bits and pieces of your story — both connected to your death and simply part of your life — that I will never know. Perhaps most surprising of all to me is that that’s okay. I’m no longer driven and fastidious about recording your history. Nowadays, I’m more willing to carry the feeling of you rather than your biographical record.

Which is not to say that you’ve faded away from me. I still think of you every day, and while those thoughts have morphed into broader strokes of who you were and how you lived, I continue to miss you. That has not changed.

But life (or in this case, grief) has changed a lot for me in fourteen years. Grief hasn’t gone away but it’s certainly been transformed. It had to. Otherwise, how could I have gone on without you? That acute, unrelenting pain which I felt in those first weeks after your death in early 2009, I’d never have survived if that pain hadn’t let up. Thank God for the resilience of the heart. It would have done no one any good for me to have died along with you and I knew you’d want me to move through the valley of the shadow of death, not take up permanent residence there.

All of this recently came to mind when earlier this month I read a piece in the New York Times written by a mom whose 14-year-old daughter had died after a year-long battle with cancer (“My Daughter’s Future Was Taken From Her, and From Us,” Sarah Wildman, New York Times, May 19, 2023). As I took in this mother’s thoughts, I remember two of my own thoughts that came to mind.

First, her grief is so familiar and visceral. So acute and agonizing, I can feel its relentless demands in every sinew of my body and in the deepest recesses of my soul. I’m so sorry for her loss.

Alongside that, however, my second thought is that I’m now, fourteen years after your death, in such a different place. I’m not over you. I don’t ever want to be. Maybe it’d be more accurate to say that you’re in a different place. No longer front and center, you reside nearby, forever present and close in mind but not so much that you dictate my emotions and actions.

So from this observation point fourteen years down that road that Sarah Wildman and so many others have only just begun, I thought I’d reflect a bit on a few lines from her essay and consider where I was then and where I am now.

Probably my most hard-won lesson: Grief isn’t easy but, amazingly, it’s doable.

Early in the piece, Wildman writes, “My partner, Ian, and I are, in Hebrew, av shakul and em shakula — a bereaved father and mother. […] We are parents who have seen a future stolen.”

When you died, Jonah, you didn’t die alone. Your unborn children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren – every generation that would have come into existence because you had lived – they all vanished. Never to be. As Wildman writes, “A future stolen.”

Fourteen years later, I am still aware of your endless absence. What’s changed is that this awareness drops its soul-numbing bomb with far less frequency.

Every now and then, I still cry that you are gone. And I ache that your future has vanished with you. But I have always lived by the creed of the optimist. Not only have I found other futures to believe in, our family has even found a way to return to you, in a manner of speaking, your own future. You died too young for us to know where life might have taken you, but we did know what animated you in those early chapters of your life.

We created The Jonah Maccabee Foundation to build a future out of what had been the drivers of your present life and which might have become your future. Friends, family and a whole bunch of other folks who just get inspired by how you lived, we all pull our resources together and help out in places that reflect the kinds of things you seemed to have loved: the arts, social justice, and your Jewish heritage. It’s certainly not the same thing. Oh that you could be here to live your own life. But failing that, the Foundation has become a wonderful vehicle for celebrating rather than mourning your life.

My sweet Jonah, fourteen years ago, in the blink of an eye, you were gone. Fourteen years later, you’re still gone … but you continue to make a difference in the world. And that allows this dad to live (even if somewhat uneasily) in a world absent your unforgettable smile and your enduring bear hugs.

Your spirit lives on.

I’ll write more about this soon.

Love you forever,

[Part Two is here.]

BillyPart ONE: 14 Years and the Blink of an Eye
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With Your Help, Here’s What We’ve Accomplished So Far In 2023

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Dear friends,

We thought you might like to know how we spent the money you’ve donated to The Jonah Maccabee Foundation thus far in 2023 (with links to each recipient if you’d like to learn more):

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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

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 Dreskin
The Jonah Maccabee Foundation

BillyWith Your Help, Here’s What We’ve Accomplished So Far In 2023
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Campaign for Earthquake Relief … thus far

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Dear friends,

With your compassionate and generous support, we’ve sent off four grants to provide help from all of us in the aftermath of the recent natural disaster that has caused so much damage and taken so many lives in Turkey and Syria.

Grants have been made to:

  • The White Helmets, an all-volunteer relief organization on the ground in Syria. White Helmets volunteers have saved some 3000 victims from the destruction caused by the earthquake. The White Helmets are now entering the next phase of their emergency response: recovery and rehabilitation.
  • IsraAID, volunteers from Israel bringing help to anywhere in the world whose citizens find themselves in emergency need (including countries that are hostile to Israel, like Syria).
  • Embrace Relief, a Turkish-American relief organization that partners with organizations and sends their own volunteers to bring help where needed.
  • Bridge to Turkiye, a Turkish-American relief organization that partners with other organizations to get the help to where it’s most needed.

We’ll keep on helping on your behalf so if you would like to make a gift, The Jonah Maccabee Foundation would be pleased to find the organizations that are doing the best work there and direct our communal dollars to them.

Visit and donate to our Earthquake Relief Fund. We’ll take care of the rest.

The Jonah Maccabee Foundation has promised to honor Jonah’s life by “turning love into action.” The people whose lives have been upended and (often literally) reduced to rubble in Southwestern Asia is exactly the kind of love Jonah would act on. And with your help, so will we.

Thank you for supporting our Earthquake Relief Fund.

Ellen, Billy, Katie and Aiden
The Jonah Maccabee Foundation

BillyCampaign for Earthquake Relief … thus far
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Thank you for donating to our Earthquake Relief Fund

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Thank you for participating in our efforts to bring some love and drastically-needed help to the earthquake-ravaged areas in Turkey and Syria. We are profoundly grateful for your partnership in making this happen.

The Dreskins

Laura and Matt Copel … in memory of Joseph Farhi

Susan and Richard Loether

Marge Thrope

Carol Scharff

The Levins

Mike and Stacey Silverman

Alexis A. Milford

Cantor and Mrs. Stephen Richards

Cantor Leon Sher

Chuck and Nancy Fishman

Rabbi Susie Moskowitz

Amy Dattner-Levy


Naomi and Richard Binenfeld

Bobbi Tornheim

Danny Siegel


Liza Pincus and Elie Salamon

Sue Bensadon

Sally Winter

Nicole Roos

Mary Ann and Gary Shamis

Jo and Frank Hariton

Corey Friedlander … in memory of Jonah Dreskin


Glynis Conyer

Robbie Harris

Cantor Suzanne Bernstein … in honor of Miryam Coppersmith

Roberta Roos

Barry Tenenholtz

Roberta Grossman

Rene Katersky

Martine and Bruce Klein

Henry and Diana Asher

Lois and Jay Izes

Susan and Andy Sterling

Terri and Steve Levin

Scott B. Cantor and Lisa E. Stone

Mattie and David Paul … in honor of the Dreskin family for all they do for others

Ruth Rugoff and Joe + Annie Potischman … in honor of The Jonah Maccabee Foundation

Riki Lippitz … in honor of Rhita Lippitz’s birthday

BillyThank you for donating to our Earthquake Relief Fund
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Dear Jonah,

Today is February 14, 2023. You were born exactly thirty-three years ago. Our Valentine’s Day baby.

In my birthday letter to you last year, I wrote that many of your friends and family have, over the years, dreamed about you. The bonus in many of those dreams was if you reached out and gave your dreamer a hug. Your hugs were legend, Jonah. Big, strong, and rib-crushing. They were to be savored and remembered. Remembered because your hugs always made an impression. Even in a dream, Jonah-hugs are unforgettable!

Big man/Little man … G’pa Jake and Jonah (circa 1996)

You must have learned how to hug from your Grandpa Jake, Mom’s dad, with whom you shared a special bond, including the genetic gift of size. Grandpa Jake was strong as an ox, as were you, and his hugs were rib-busters too. In both cases, we really had to prepare ourselves for the boa constrictor-like squeeze that accompanied every hug. In your case, if we were lucky, you’d augment the hug by picking us up and swinging us around as well. I don’t think I ever got one of those, but I did once get an unforgettable pick-me-up!

Age 13 and he still loved hugging his George!

In 1991, you were just a year old, not yet a hugger to anyone except Curious George, your little monkey buddy who accompanied you nearly everywhere. While silently wishing you’d direct some of that affection in our direction, Mom and I adored watching as you would smother that little critter with unbounded love. Sometimes though, you would be overtaken by your excitement about something, the source of which we had absolutely no inkling, and you’d run over to me, and bury your head in my shoulder, too cute for words. A sign, to be sure, but we had no idea the storm of tenderness that was brewing inside you, and that the relentless squeezes you unleashed on that little furry guy were paving the way for you developing the very trait that would one day become your calling card.

I’ve mentioned these hugs in many of my letters, Jonah. But I’ve gathered a few of them here, just in case you were somehow oblivious to the impact (physical and emotional) they had on all of us.

Even in front of the Ark, in front of the congregation, at Jonah’s Confirmation in 2000, everything stopped for a hug from this boy.

When you were in the tenth grade and a member of “Rabbi Dad’s” Confirmation class, I remember you finishing the reading of your Confirmation statement, walking over to me at the open Ark, my placing a Torah in your arms, whispering some words to you, and then placing my hands on your head to give you a blessing. As I finished, I reached out to kiss your forehead and you reached right back. With your left arm (the right, still holding the Torah) you hugged me. It was a moment and a feeling that I will never forget.

Which, every now and then, was what it meant to be Jonah Dreskin’s dad.

On Hanukkah, after lighting candles, we would open gifts. When you were younger, you weren’t very good at hiding your feelings of disappointment upon receiving something you didn’t much care for. But as you grew older, your charm and your grace and your deepening understanding of the important things in life, these all kicked in. I cherished watching you give a thank you (almost always accompanied by a hug) for something I knew hadn’t been anywhere near the top of your list. I so admired that in you. Especially knowing how far you’d journeyed to get there.

And then there were the dreams. I haven’t had too many of them, JoJo, which makes them all the more special.

2006. When his arms opened wide, you didn’t miss the opportunity!

In 2009, about eight months after your death, I had my first dream about you. You had gone away to college and we went to visit you. At the end of that visit, when it was clearly time for a goodbye hug, you and I hesitated, as if maybe it wasn’t that time. Which was surprising, of course, since hugs had always been your go-to, your specialty. But then you reached out to me and gave me that precious hug. After a moment, you broke from the embrace and I thought our goodbye was over. But then you reached for me one more time … and you kissed me. You kissed me! Never in my life (or yours) had your lips ever touched my person! And not only that, you kissed me a whole bunch of times, all over my face! Six or seven smackaroos, from cheek to forehead to other cheek. And I’m still left wondering: Was that a dream, or did you make your way back to let me know you loved me?

If so, message received. Thank you, boy.

In 2010, about a year after you died, I was sleeping at Kibbutz Merom Golan in Israel and I dreamt that you had returned to us. I’m in some sort of movie theater and I notice you towards the front. You’re on your feet speaking quietly with others around you. It feels so good to have you back. I go to you and, of course, there are hugs. But this time they’re different – sweet, tender, and quiet. You seem humbled to be there. To be anywhere. You are neither boisterous nor your usual large and smiling self. But you do seem comfortable. I think you told me it was frightening, but I’m not sure that was the word you used. I do remember that you were taking nothing for granted.

This nighttime moment has been precious, but I sense that the roosters on the kibbutz are crowing and I am waking up. I resist, knowing the moment will fade. As I drift toward consciousness, I’m pleased that the scene lingers for just a bit. But as I expected, it softens and begins to fade. I am awake. The warmth, however, remains.

17th birthday hug from Mom. Notice the lock-technique in his hands. She wasn’t going anywhere!

We all craved your hugs, Jonah – family and friends alike. They were so strong, but they always conveyed your relentless and generous offerings of gentleness, kindness, friendship, protection, intimacy, humor, bravado and love. And who wouldn’t want some of those? Even after you’d physically gone, the effects of your presence among us still reverberates.

Someone once suggested to me that if I spent less time thinking about you during the day (guilty as charged), I might meet you more often during the night. But much as those nighttime romps might appeal to me, I’m not sure I either want or should remove you from my day. You are such a vital part of my daily life. Your photographs are all over our home, capturing not only that big, beautiful spirit of yours but also time that you spent sharing that spirit with each of us. There are mementos of your life — gifts you once gave me, toys and books and music that were yours — scattered throughout. I love them all. Because while I don’t want you, or your absence, to rule my life, I never want to push you aside either. You are one of my three children. And you always will be. That makes me cry, because you are gone. And it makes me smile, because you were here. I won’t ever let you disappear.

Dr. Sunita Puri, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, urges us “to examine, rather than bury, the loss and grief around us” (“We Must Learn to Look at Grief, Even When We Want to Run Away,” New York Times, Feb 23, 2022). In a sense, Jonah, your death defines my life. I am so grateful that you (and Katie and Aiden) have been part of it. And your early departure is constantly teaching me to appreciate what I have, right here and now, to do my very best to not waste it. If I spend part of my days with you, it’s because I miss you, and because you have become one of my life-guides. I think I’m doing life better because of your continued presence in it.

For me, Jonah, you were a giant. Yes, because of the person you had become and were becoming. But also because you were a Dreskin. You and your siblings loom larger than anything else in my life. The three of you are the gleaming jewels of my existence, and of whom I never tire watching. So while dreams are exciting, perhaps because they bring some sort of new experience to the table post-March 5, 2009, the truth is that you’re gone. Thinking about you, about the nineteen years that you were with us, helps me to face the reality that you are no longer here. And that, dreams aside, you’re not coming back.

Never too young to learn. Note the lock method in Aiden’s burgeoning technique!

Your hugs were so physical, so tactile, that they remain, for many of us, a powerful memory of the time we were lucky enough to share with you. And yes, those hugs have become a most welcome encounter gleefully and gratefully met during the twilight hours of a delicious, obliging dream. But like any memory, they capture only a fraction of the real thing.

Today would have been your 33rd birthday, Jonah. I miss you. I miss you today and everyday.

As sad as I am that you are gone, I am happy that you were once with us. You made us a five-some. A family. A fantastic gathering of love and delight. We laughed, we played, we sang, we annoyed, we took care of each other. Thirty-three years after your arrival, and nearly fourteen since you’ve been gone, I don’t live my life for you but I don’t live it without you either. Like those titanic hugs of yours, you are not and will not be forgotten.

It’s not what we wanted, but it’s what we’ve got. So day or night, your memory and your spirit will be cherished and honored. You were a blessing to us all. You always will be.

Happy birthday, my sweet Maccabee.

Love you forever,

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