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


Dear Jonah,

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

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

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

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

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

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Screen Door

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Dear Jonah,

I have a love-hate relationship with doors, in particular the one that stands at the front entrance to our home. Not the entry door, the heavy one that “defends the castle,” but the second layer, the screen (or storm) door that permits light and air (but not bugs).

Jonah pursues Aiden (noodle in hand) 1221 Avon Dr, Cincinnati (Feb 2006)

When you were sixteen years old, I took you, Katie and Aiden back to 1221 Avon Drive (in my hometown of Cincinnati) where I lived the first sixteen years of my life. You and Aiden reenacted that fateful day when Uncle Jimmy, noodle in hand (from the bowl of chicken noodle soup he’d previously been slurping), chased six-year-old me through the hallway that led from our kitchen to the front door.

BillyScreen Door
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Remembering A Friend

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Meet Alessandra Rabellino. Ale (pronounced “Allie”) is 24, lives in Atlanta, and is a graduate student in design at the Portfolio Center.

Ale and Jonah met during her freshman year of high school at a weekend retreat for Jewish youth group leaders. This was Ale’s first time attending the retreat, held at Kutz Camp in upstate New York, and she didn’t know anyone there. Although she’d never really been shy, she felt out of place in this very new environment. But not more than two minutes after she got off the bus and finished signing in, a cute boy with auburn hair approached her and asked if it was her first time at Kutz, flashing a warm, welcoming grin that melted away any reservations she may have had about being there. She imagined that smile had a similar effect of many others. The boy she had just met was Jonah Maccabee Dreskin, a cool high school senior whom everyone seemed to know and love.

BillyRemembering A Friend
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Dear Jonah,

You haunt my life. But in a good way. Wherever I go, if you were there, I feel it.

I feel you.

I can be driving down the road and, if I see something that was part of my experience with you, your presence comes pouring into me. I can be reading a book and, if I encounter a turn of a phrase that once came from you, the book recedes as your story moves into my foreground.

I love those moments. They contain the requisite pang of remembering you’re no longer in this universe. But they also remind me how sweet it was to have had you here in the first place.

Recently, I finished a Shabbat service at temple and was putting my things together to head home when I noticed a discarded piece of paper on the sanctuary floor. It was filled with the drawings of a child whose parent had (wisely) provided pen and paper to keep the child quietly busy throughout the service.

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Responding to Adversity with Our Very Best

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I was interested in listening to the score of that new musical about the airplanes that got diverted to Gander, in Newfoundland, on September 11, 2001. Because I entered the wrong name for the show, Google pointed me to a Twyla Tharp musical about Frank Sinatra. And although Ol’ Blue Eyes had indeed spent some time in Gander, I was looking for something else.

Finally, I found it. The musical’s name is “Come From Away” and just listening to snippets of its songs on iTunes sent tears rolling down my face. Having now purchased the entire recording and been listening to it for two days, I think my eyelids are chapped from all the crying.

“Come From Away” is not a sad story even though it emerges from the devastating events of 9/11. It’s a side-bar tale of 7000 passengers on 38 international flights that were diverted to this little Canadian town of only 10,000 residents when the U.S. closed its airspace. The musical revels in the storm of kindness unleashed by the townsfolk during those three days when their population nearly doubled. Picketing bus drivers got back behind the wheels of their buses as bakeries, restaurants, stores, medical personnel, therapists, and virtually everyone else in town did whatever they could to help the stranded while they waited to go home. Even two great apes had to be tended to!

BillyResponding to Adversity with Our Very Best
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A Song From the Heart


Dear Jonah,

Yesterday was your yahrzeit. I spent the day sitting quietly at home reflecting on the eight years that have passed without you in them. Well, you’re in them, kid. You’re always in them.

Age 18 (Aug 2008)

Last night, we held the 8th annual concert in celebration of your life. I’m still amazed how powerful these evenings are for me. Part of it is that so many people in attendance want to surround our family with love and support. So while I was ready to just jump in and enjoy the concert, their strong emotions nudged me into a more reflective state than I might otherwise have found myself.

That was okay. More than okay. With your smiling, black-and-white-checked-fedora-topped face on the screens above the performers, you were powerfully present anyway. Again, my visceral response to your photo took me by surprise but that was a fine, comforting way to move through the evening.

BillyA Song From the Heart
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A Leap of Faith


Dear Jonah,

Faith is a commodity I’ve spent most of my life peddling. It’s kind of what rabbis do. On this your 8th yahrzeit, I’m thinking about faith. Not mine (although losing you has certainly put that to the test).

I mean yours.

Because the Buffalo medical examiner was unable to prove the cause of your death, the police wanted to label it a suicide. But in canvassing your friends on campus, they found what I’d felt all along. You were not a candidate for suicide. You had far too much faith – in you, in others, and in life.

BillyA Leap of Faith
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Feb 14, 2017 (your 27th birthday)


Dear Jonah,

Special Investigator Jethro Gibbs brings a full complement of law enforcement skills to his job heading up a crew of officers at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. NCIS. Yep, one of my favorite TV shows. One of America’s favorite TV shows. I enjoy it because of the storylines that are frequently accompanied by a humor (okay, often corny humor) that makes me smile. I’m not sure if you’re responsible for this, Jonah, but between losing you and the ugliness in the world today, I have absolutely no desire to see unabating corruption and violence on television. Unless it’s about the good guys winning.

BillyFeb 14, 2017 (your 27th birthday)
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What Won’t Be Erased


Dear Jonah,

I was in the backyard today with Charlie where, while usually it’s only a quick pass-through as he makes his way from the back door to the front door and outside again, he found lots to interest him. So I got to linger a bit too.

My attention was drawn to the grass we tried to grow this summer in the well-worn spot that was at the bottom of the slide which was part of your recently-removed childhood swing set. It was time for the swings to go. It had been many years since you and your siblings had played there, and the play set itself was no longer trustworthy for a new generation.

One of my favorite pix ever, taken atop the slide (circa 1998).

Knowing all that, I still feel a tug from its absence. As kids, you and Katie and Aiden had spent some nice times out there, whether as a threesome or during backyard birthday parties. Even as you entered your teens, the swing set became an outdoor retreat for time alone or with friends.

So removing the play set erases one more source of my memories of you. Sure, I have pictures. And I love the pictures. But there’s emotional power to still having the real thing around. More likely, however, it’s part of my ongoing battle to prevent the universe from erasing you.

BillyWhat Won’t Be Erased
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Life (and You) Still Teaching Me


Dear Jonah,

Most days, I’m okay. Really. I’m almost never without you on my mind or very close by. But I don’t dwell much. I enjoy my life, and I eagerly meet each new day.

Meandering along the dog park's back path

Here’s why we love the footpath so much!

I do still feel sorry for myself. Because everyday, you’re still gone. And you’re still nineteen. You don’t disappear at an older age as the years go on. Everyday, my young kid is gone. That hurt, that profound sense of irreparable loss, never fully goes away.

On days when Charlie and I get to spend time at the dog park, we meander along the back trail enjoying the quiet and the solitude. Which is often when I will think about you.

Today, our walk was a lesson in humility and perspective. In life, sooner or later, we all confront loss. The best outcome, perhaps, is that ours will in some way prepare us to be a better presence as others confront theirs.

We met up with two families whose time of loss has arrived.

BillyLife (and You) Still Teaching Me
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