What’s Happening?

Our June Campaign is up and running: WE’RE 10 YEARS OLD!

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Our June campaign is out the starting gate. And we hope you’ll want to participate.

For a decade now, your faith in our family’s desire not just to remember Jonah but to honor his memory by bringing as much good into the world as we can, well you’ve made that happen.

And you can make that happen again.

Here’s what longtime donor Sally Winter recently wrote us:

I never was lucky enough to know Jonah. You might ask then why have I continued to support this foundation? I didn’t know Jonah but I have had the opportunity to learn with Jonah’s mom at URJ kallot. I have had the chance to watch Jonah’s dad lead services and listen to him teach. I think one of the most difficult experiences in life must be losing a child. Billy and Ellen have turned their tragedy into a beautiful remembrance. The Jonah Maccabee Foundation continues to honor Jonah and do so much good in areas that were important in his life. To me, action is important. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said: “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. [For me,] our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.'” I feel that by continuing to support this foundation, I am praying with my feet. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to do so.

It is we who are honored and privileged to have each of you marching with us. Your donation to our “We’re 10 Years Old!” campaign will be used in the coming year to help in so many different ways. [If you’d like to know how we spent this past year’s donations, please visit https://mailchi.mp/jonahmac/10-years-old.]

Thank you for caring and for supporting our “We’re 10 Years Old!” campaign.

And don’t forget …










10th Anniversary Event                                                  Jonah’s Trading Post
https://jonahmac.org/ten                                             https://jonahmac.org/trading-post

BillyOur June Campaign is up and running: WE’RE 10 YEARS OLD!
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Our 10th Year Anniversary Event is Only 3 Weeks Away!

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This is the month! Our 10th Year Anniversary Event is only a few weeks away. And we’re really hoping you’ll join us — online or on-site in White Plains, NY.

The event is FREE but reservations are necessary (so we’ve got enough chairs and food and that sort of stuff).

And in case you’re wondering, we’re not going to ask you to donate any money while you’re there. We really want this night to be a big thank you to YOU for making everything we do possible.

So please join us on June 26.

The celebration will take place at Play Group Theatre (1 North Broadway, White Plains, NY) which is where Jonah pretty much grew up, discovering show biz, his love for being a ham, and where he learned how to care for his fellow actors both onstage and off. We were delighted and humbled when Jill and Steven Abusch, proprietors of said theatre, opened their doors to us.

We’ll gather at 7:00 pm for hugs and hors d’oeuvres, enjoy an hour of entertainment and tributes on PGT’s mainstage, followed by a dessert reception. Part of the evening will take place in our very favorite space at PGT, the Jonah Mac Theatre (yep, named for that Jonah Mac).

So won’t you come be with us? After all, you’re the ones who made all this happen. And you deserve some great music, stories, and delicious hors d’oeuvres!

Okay, there is one $$$ ask. With the war in Ukraine dragging on, we want to do what we can to help them out. When you register, you’ll be invited to kick in a few bucks to help with Ukrainian relief. Those folks have been putting everything on the line, and we want to let them know we’ve got their backs. Thank you in advance for that.

‘Nuf said. Time for you to visit jonahmac.org/ten, and let us know you’ll be with us online or on-site for our June 26 event.

If you have any questions, give us a holler. We sincerely hope to see you there!

BillyOur 10th Year Anniversary Event is Only 3 Weeks Away!
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Thanks to all who have contributed to our “We’re 10 Years Old!” 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 “We’re 10 Years Old!” 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 and Boonshofts


Martha Dubinsky Witkowski

Roberta Roos

Hebrew Union College American Jewish Archives

Robbie Harris … in honor of the wonderful work you do

Karen Steele

Cantor Danielle Rodnizki … in honor of JMF’s 10 years!

Steve and Donna Sorrow

Vivian and David Singer

Rabbi Zachary A. Plesent and Cantor Jenna L. Mark

Rabbi Aaron M. and Janese Petuchowski

Jan and Lanie Katzew

Dr. Helen Meltzer-Krim … in honor of Ronna Weber

Bernard H Mehlman … in honor of Rabbi Gustav Buchdahl, the birthday of a great friend

Roberta Grossman

Rebecca Schwartz

Merri Rosenberg

Naomi and Richard Binenfeld … in honor of Daniel Loventhal’s 46th birthday

Norah Markey … in honor of Ellen and Billy Dreskin

Jeanne Weiland

Louis Shach, uncle of David Brokaw

Rene Katersky … in honor of the Dreskin family because I have so much respect and admiration for all you do, not only in this good work in Jonah’s memory, but for your continuous warmth of welcome and teaching

Kathy Tuchman Glass

Jesse Turner … in memory of David Brokaw, gone too soon

Marc Rosenstein

Beth Sher … in memory of Bobbie Kraus, who helped hundreds of children find their voice

Michael and Carol

Stephen Wise

Marta Kauffman … in honor of Ellen and Billy Dreskin

Rabbi Amy and Gary Perlin

Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman … in honor of ten years of bringing light

Rabbi Norman and Terry Cohen … in honor of Ellen and Billy Dreskin

Rabbi Maya Glasser … in honor of Rabbi Billy’s trip to Florida

Stan Schickler … in honor of everyone’s retirements!

Ira Lichtiger

Craig Taubman

Michael Skloff

Rochelle Novins … in memory of Jay and Kevin Novins

Lois and Bernie Bacharach

Cantor Tracey Scher … in honor of Larchmont Temple and in memory of Jonah Dreskin

Beth, Todd, and Josh Benjamin … in memory of Martin Klapman

Jennifer Jaech

The Carrolls

Michael Swit … in memory of Bruce H. Greene

Dan and Joy Firshein

Judy Fuhrer … in memory of Jonah

Rabbi David Gelfand

Noah Budin

Carolyn and Eldon Wexler

Glynis Conyer

David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik

Rabbi Lisa and Josh Nelson

Joan, Tim and Abbey Funk … in memory of David Funk’s yahrzeit

Geri Pell

Rabbi Joan and Andy Farber

Cantor Jan Mahler

Marc J Margolius

Regina Silitch … in memory of Aidan Silitch

Todd Kipnis

Cantor Lisa Levine

Rosalie Will and David Billotti

Julie and Scott Stein

Batyah Ben-David

Congregation Emanu-El in the City of New York

Madelyn Katz

Charles and Nancy Fishman

Rabbi Michael Pincus

Daria and David Moore … in memory of Jonah Mac. In our hearts forever. Thank you for your incredible dedication and love.

Pietra, Alan and Ben Cohen … in honor of Sylvia and Arthur

Matt Grob

Martine and Bruce Klein

Justine Berkowicz

Murray and Jeanne Bodin

Robin and David Suarez

Harvey Feldman … in memory of Nathan and Marian Feldman

Faith Joy Dantowitz … in memory of Jonah Maccabee Dreskin

Ruth Rugoff, Joe and Annie Potischman … in memory of Jonah Dreskin

Bruce Ginsberg and Rebecca Dulit … in memory of Albert and Edith Ginsberg and Everett Dulit

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

Dr Daniel Lucas

Judy Mann

Myron Katz … in memory of Rina

Rabbi Peter Rubinstein … in honor of Billy and Ellen Dreskin

Molly Rodriguez … in honor of the Foundation’s 10th anniversary

Shari and Jonathan Turell

Jeanne and Murray Bodin

Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe

Cam and Julia Shriver

Allison Pincus and Matt Scult

Tom and Susan Schaeffer

Corey Friedlander


BillyThanks to all who have contributed to our “We’re 10 Years Old!” Campaign
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Our June Campaign is here: WE’RE 10 YEARS OLD!

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We’ve got THREE EXCITING PIECES OF NEWS to tell you about.

#1: “We’re 10 Years Old!”

It’s rather unbelievable. It’s been 13 years since Jonah died, and 10 years since we started The Jonah Maccabee Foundation. During that time, more than 800 of you have made more than 2500 donations in 25 campaigns. Because of that, you have empowered us (that’s “you and us together”) to provide more than 150 grants to organizations that are working to make our world better for all.We simply must say thank you. It’s because of your heart, your caring, and your generosity, that we have been able to do any of this. That includes, by the way, our continued healing from Jonah’s death; we’re not done with that, but your kindness is what’s put us well on the path.

We’re hoping you will help us mark this significant moment by donating to our “We’re 10 Years Old!” campaign. Anytime in the month of June, please help us rededicate ourselves to another ten years of doing good for others.


If you’re able, we sure would love to have you with us. It’ll take place at 7:00 pm on Sunday, June 26 at Play Group Theatre in White Plains, NY.

There’ll be music, stories, tasty treats, and a whole bunch of really nice people (like you).

There’s no cost to attend and we promise not to ask you to donate any money while you’re there.

But you do have to register, which you can do at jonahmac.org/ten.

We’ll also be streaming the event online. Register for that as well at jonahmac.org/ten, so we can send you a link.

#3: Jonah’s Trading Post is OPEN FOR BUSINESS!

What’s Jonah’s Trading Post? Well, you should really stop by and take a look. Basically, it’s a place for us to raise money in a different way.

Most of the inventory at Jonah’s Trading Post right now is music. Audio recordings, sheet music, choral arrangements and even band arrangements. It’s primarily music written by Billy.

Childrens’ music, adult listening, and synagogue choral music. Some musical theatre too!

Craig Taubman is there as well. So Is Life is there too (Dan Nichols, Rosalie Will, Josh Nelson and Ellen Dreskin). And Beged Kefet also! All of these good folks have donated their music, for which we’re very grateful.

At Jonah’s Trading Post, there are no prices on anything. You get to decide how much you want to donate. Yep, you can have everything for free, but we’re hoping you’ll drop a bunch of shekels in our bucket so we can do even more good stuff through the Foundation.

Stop by Jonah’s Trading Post and see (hear!) for yourself.

#4 (Bonus Section): It’s YOU who makes the difference!

Before we let you go, here’s a list of the grants that YOU’VE made possible so far in 2022:

  • IsraAid … supports Ukrainian refugees in Moldova and supplies humanitarian aid to southern Ukraine
  • Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center … provides free outdoor educational programming to low-resourced communities in the Boston Public Schools
  • 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
  • “Songleading: A Work of Art” … the Foundation has underwritten this important book that promotes the training of a new generation of capable, effective leaders of communal singing.
  • 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
  • The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project … provides free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children in Arizona who face immigration removal proceedings, endeavoring to ensure each immigrant has access to counsel, understands their rights under the law, and is treated fairly and humanely
  • 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
  • The Reform Movement’s Racial Justice Campaign … combats voter suppression, addressing systemic racism by demanding policy change on both a state and federal level
  • Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights … advocates for the rights and best interests of immigrant children, from custody and release to the ultimate decision about whether the child will be allowed to remain in the U.S.
  • Play Group Theatre … “preparing kids for every stage in life,” PGT understands that the show isn’t what’s most important when kids do theatre. Learning collaboration, sharpening listening skills, embracing creativity, and treating one another with honor … these are what PGT is all about. We love that!
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 52nd Street Project … creates and produces new plays for, and often by, kids ages 9-18 who reside in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City

We’d be honored to have you join us in “We’re 10 Years Old!”

Together, let’s remember Jonah by helping make the world a little better for everyone.

BillyOur June Campaign is here: WE’RE 10 YEARS OLD!
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Thank you for donating to our Ukrainian Relief Fund

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Please note: This list only reflects donations to our Ukrainian Relief Fund as part of our 10th Anniversary Event. All others are acknowledged elsewhere. Thanks for understanding.

Wendy Deuring

Carol Scharff

Beth Sperber Richie

Ellen and Billy Dreskin

Ilene Berger

Corey Friedlander

Michael Mellen

Nicole Roos

Mark Kaufman

Phyllis Opochinsky

Rabbi Eddie Schecter

Carol Scharf

Sally Winter

Sarah Stein

Matt Grob

Carol Scharff

Richard Stoerger

Jeanne and Murray Bodin

Don Jones

Ilene Berger

Beth Sperber Richie

Tracy Friend

Judy Adams

Madeline Hendricks

Eve Rudin Kleinman

Rene Katersky

Malcolm and Ali Weisman McDowell

Liza Pincus

Margot Serwer

Beth Sher

Lisa Stone

Mark and Mara Young

Jeff Kagan

Geri Pell

Roberta Roos


BillyThank you for donating to our Ukrainian Relief Fund
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Honoring Evan Friedman

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Evan Friedman, ULC MinisterThe NY Alliance — an organization of New York City business owners, c-level executives, firm partners, and senior level decision makers who are committed to fellow leaders’ growth, success, and happiness — announced that Evan Friedman (a longtime friend and partner to the Dreskin family) has been named recipient of the Roy Hoffman Pay It Forward Award, named in memory of Roy Hoffman as a reflection of Roy’s giving nature and commitment to the Alliance.

Roy was a believer in “paying it forward,” the idea being that you can’t always pay back, so instead you pay it forward; you help someone else. This was how Roy networked, paying it forward, helping others as a means of paying back those who helped him.

In recognition of Evan’s receiving the alliance’s most prestigious award, a cash prize has been donated to Evan’s charity of choice: The Jonah Maccabee Foundation.

First and foremost, congratulations to Evan on receiving this wonderful honor. Second, how honored WE are to call Evan our friend. And third, woo hoo! We’re going to do some wonderful work out there with this gift. Thank you, Evan, for loving us, for remembering Jonah, and for paying it forward through the foundation that bears his name.

BillyHonoring Evan Friedman
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Thank you … to those who, in 2022, have provided funds so we can make a difference in people’s lives

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David and Beth Fine … in honor of Ellen Dreskin

David Saperstein

Joan Dreskin Funk … in memory of Ida Feldman Dreskin, my dear mother, on her 6th yahrzeit

Craig Taubman

Cantor Jenna Mark … in honor of Cantor Ellen Dreskin and her romper

Cantor Suzanne Bernstein

Emma Mutter

David and Mattie Paul

Steven Selenfriend … in honor of Noah Budin

Danielle Rodnizki

Rick Lupert

Cantor Bradley Hyman

Lauren Furman

Mark Kamins

Cantor Jenna Mark

Mickey Milbauer … in memory of Richard Milbauer

The NY Alliance … in honor of Evan Friedman, recipient of the Roy Hoffman Pay It Forward Award

David Lewis … in honor of Evan Friedman for his ongoing support

Melissa Wishner … thank you for the music!

Todd Gordon and Susan Feder

Virginia and Michael Fineberg

Corey Friedlander

Geri Pell

Madelyn Katz

Jamie Cohn and Jimmy Dreskin and family … in memory of Molly Meltzer

Karen Steele

Rabbi Jonathan and Susan Stein

Ellen Brodsky Gaber … in memory of Jonah Dreskin and in honor of Billy Dreskin’s retirement

Roberta Roos … in memory of Lloyd Roos

Molly Rodriguez

Tom Schaeffer

Phyllis Opochinsky

Marilyn and Jeff Bilsky

ARJE … in honor of Cantor Ellen Dreskin

Maurice Salth

Bonnie Friedman

The Pomers … in honor of the AMAZING Ellen Dreskin

Congregation Ahavath Chesed

Irv and Angela Adler … in memory of Feige Adler

Fran and Frank Feigert … in honor of Victoria Feigert

Roland, Tina, and Daniel Roth … in honor of Ellen and your incredible family


Barb and Jerry Wishner family

John H. Planer

Faye and Evan Friedman … in honor of Miriam Benjamin

Ira and Julia Levin

Nicole Roos … in honor of Billy and Ellen Dreskin, for their immense kindness and for being the very special people that they are

Ilana Matteson


BillyThank you … to those who, in 2022, have provided funds so we can make a difference in people’s lives
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FROM JONAH’S DAD: Hope Smiles — this is it!

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Hi. December and 2021 are just about over. And so is our Hope Smiles campaign. If you don’t mind, we’re going to try one last time to get you to part with a few dollars and send them along to The Jonah Maccabee Foundation.

It’s been a challenging couple of years, hasn’t it? And the Omicron variant has reminded us we’re not yet out of the woods. But here’s our promise: The Jonah Maccabee Foundation will keep its eyes open for ways we can be of help in the year ahead, whether it be through acts of communal kindness, making sure the arts don’t get lost amidst our scrambling to keep the virus at bay, or enhancing Jewish life in a few worthy places that we encounter. Your gift to Hope Smiles will help us make that happen.

Before 2021 concludes, a little something about Jonah …

In the summer of 1998 when Jonah was all of 8 years old, he spent a week at Cub Scout Day Camp on the other side of the county. After the first day, he was nearly thrown out of the program for grabbing a camper and talking back to several (!) adult counselors. This was not an unfamiliar sequence of events as Jonah had a pronounced sense of justice that would likely have served him well in adulthood but, as a child, simply made him appear to be a misbehaving kid. That evening, Jonah and I talked it through and we came to an understanding about what society wants of us and, more importantly, what real injustice is all about. He returned to camp the next day and everyone enjoyed his presence for the remainder of the week. He was, after all, a pretty fun kid.

At eight years old, Jonah didn’t necessarily understand all the textures and dynamics of right and wrong. But he was learning. And I always loved that it mattered to him. I also loved that he was always watching and listening. Sometimes that caused him to punch another kid, but sometimes it helped him to understand why he should think about refraining from punching another kid. As Jonah grew into adulthood, I marveled at the lessons learned. He had become a really fine human being, and I couldn’t wait to see what his mark would be on the world.

That didn’t get to happen because at age 19 Jonah’s life ended. But not the difference he was making. When our family created this foundation, we did so to try and bring into the world a bit of what Jonah might have brought to it himself if he’d had the time. We’re endlessly grateful for each gift that empowers us to do this for Jonah. Together, your and others’ donations “help us turn love into action.”

That same week back in 1998, Jonah and I went to Rye Playland, an amusement park in our area. We did not ride The Spider. There was no way Jonah was going anywhere near that thing, mostly because he’d heard about my experience from when I’d taken Katie earlier that same summer. But Jonah did want me to go on it by myself so he could watch me throw up afterwards.

I didn’t oblige him. But hope has to begin somewhere, doesn’t it?

Despite our loss, despite the coronavirus, despite so many other disappointments and challenges the world keeps throwing at us, let us continue insisting upon hopefulness, preferring to build something good rather than regret what’s been loss. Our family loves that so many of you have been joining us in this unlikely project. That’s Hope Smiles!


BillyFROM JONAH’S DAD: Hope Smiles — this is it!
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Hope Smiles — you’re darn tootin’ it does!

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Hi. Our Hope Smiles campaign is going really well. So many of you have stepped up — stop by and see the names for yourself. If you’ve not yet made your own gift, might now be just the right time?

If you’re triple vaccinated and you’re careful, the Omicron surge, God willing, should pass you by. Hopefully, this is going to persuade more and more of our neighbors to get their shots which, of course, will make the world safer for everyone.

Meanwhile, here are a few more quick snapshots of our grant recipients, so you’re in the know about what happens to any money you donate to Hope Smiles.

First up: MindLeaps uses the power of the creative arts (specifically, dance) to bring hope into the lives of extremely vulnerable children in the developing world, mainly Africa. Their unique program (a short video about which you can view here) uses a special curriculum of free dance classes to teach these kids key life skills, such as memorization, teamwork, discipline, grit, language, creativity and self-esteem, enabling them to transform that hope into tangible success in life. Once their skills reach the proper level, MindLeaps helps the kids — many of whom are refugees, or homeless, or otherwise extremely vulnerable — enter the school system, where they usually perform in the top tier of their academic classes. Without a doubt, where MindLeaps offers its programs, Hope Smiles. With jubilant gratitude for their efforts, the foundation awards grants to MindLeaps from The JMF Arts Fund. Visit mindleaps.org to learn more.

And then: Throughout the pandemic, so much of America has struggled and suffered through loss of income, loss of health, and loss of communal connection. Whether due to shuttered workplaces, understandable fear, or actually contracting Covid, getting food on the table has often been a challenge for even the middle class. Imagine how hard it became for families that have lived near or below the poverty line before the coronavirus hit. One of the foundation’s projects has been to get food to these families in as many places as we could. With heartfelt sympathy for the difficulties these families experience everyday, the foundation awarded grants from the JMF Social Justice Fund to local and statewide food programs from Wyoming to Maine, and New Mexico to Oregon. It is our hope that with each box of supplies, Hope Smiles and optimism endures. Visit feedingamerica.org to learn more and to send food to a community of your own choosing.

We continue insisting upon hopefulness, preferring to build something good rather than regret what’s been loss. You are always invited to join us along the way. You’re darn tootin’ that Hope Smiles!

Thank you.


BillyHope Smiles — you’re darn tootin’ it does!
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Hope Smiles — what’s that all about?

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Dear Jonah,

I don’t think I’ve ever written you about the foundation we created in your name. Sometime after you died, we decided it wasn’t enough to cry for you. We wanted to do something that would honor who you were, keep your name around in more than just a sad way, and maybe preserve your spirit in the world a little bit.

So in your name, in your memory, in your honor … we raise money. And then we give it away. We try to support projects and organizations we think you’d have loved, you’d have supported yourself (assuming you ever decided to get a job).

Every June and December, a lot of very nice folks send dollars our way. This current campaign is called Hope Smiles. Timing is everything, of course, and we designed the campaign just prior of Omicron’s appearance. We’d wanted to celebrate our gradual emergence from the pandemic which engulfed the world twenty-one months ago. Omicron, tho we don’t yet know how dangerous it is, reminds us there is still much to fear. The economy has taken a hit. And many of us wondering if our vaccines will hold.

But hope smiles, Jo. It’s incredible what the medical community has achieved these past two years, heroic doctors and nurses risking it all and saving countless lives tending to us. That so many Americans still refuse the vaccination (87% of those with Covid right now in Michigan’s overflowing ICUs are unvaccinated) and these healers don’t just walk off their jobs? Hope smiles. That big pharma (frequently a not-so-nice term) has nearly miraculously developed the vaccines and medicines that are saving billions of lives? Hope smiles.

And it all makes me think of you. Your seemingly unceasing goodness. Your kindness. Your hopefulness. Amidst my ongoing worry about the pandemic, and you are one of the lights that help me steer my ship.

Here’s an example of what I mean. There is a persistent mystery that you left to us. It concerns a burn mark on the bathroom counter that teaches us something about hope (or so I insist upon believing). In this case, hope that you wouldn’t get caught. Here’s an excerpt from my “Fireworks” letter to you back in July 2009:

On the first floor of our house is the bathroom you shared for fourteen years with Aiden. In that bathroom there is a Formica countertop. The countertop had been there for probably a decade or more before we moved into the house in 1995, and had always been pretty much in pristine condition. Formica is fairly impervious to abuse, so the sudden appearance one evening of a prominently positioned two-inch charred hole in the countertop caught my attention. I had my suspicions as to who caused the burn mark, but felt it important to perform my fatherly due-diligence and questioned Aiden, who was maybe four or five years old at the time and, thus, not a very likely culprit. Moving on to my older son, I tried to use gentle but firm persuasion to draw the truth out of your (I was hoping) guilt-ridden soul. Wasn’t gonna happen, though. In fact, in all the years since the burn mark appeared, I never managed to get you to admit anything about it. And the fact that, in succeeding years, you amassed a collection of matchbooks, eleven Bic and/or Zippo lighters, a container of lighter fluid (!), eight boxes of sparklers, and even more boxes of incense … well, let’s just say I held out hope to one day get a confession. This past Hanukkah (Judaism’s fire holiday, always a good time to discuss arson with your child), I actually came close to connecting you to the crime when I mentioned the burn yet again and suggested that enough time had gone by, that the statute of limitations on punishment had run out, so wouldn’t you please just tell me what happened in there. You paused what you were doing, looked over at me, peering deeply into my eyes, smiled that amazing smile of yours, and then walked away. You walked away! I never did get the story of how that burn mark got there. It will remain a mystery forever.

This makes me think, JoJo, of how we – your family – have chosen to live our lives in your absence. I often tell people, “Rather than always be mourning his loss, we celebrate that we had him with us.” And while that doesn’t mean the tears have stopped falling, it does mean that we try to focus on what we loved so deeply about you. Included in that list is your perpetual hope that things would be okay, that problems can be worked out, that people can make it through hard times, and that love and an exuberant, powerful bearhug never hurts (much).

So I’ve written you a song. Okay, not for you per se, but I’ve dedicated it to you. For a specific reason. Hope. You were so good at conveying that to others, this piece just reminded me of you.

It’s called “Hope Smiles (Neilah Conclusion).” The title references its placement as the last prayer of the long day of atonement we call Yom Kippur. The ancient imagery of the Neilah service is about asking God to forgive us for all the times we’ve messed up during the past year. With sunset and the end of Yom Kippur fast approaching, we stand with great urgency before the open Ark promising to do better in the year ahead, hoping God will grant us a boon: the blessing of an inscription in the Book of Life.

In my new retirement status, I had a gig this past High Holy Days being the musical voice (rather than the rabbinic one) on the bimah and there was no way I could pull off one of the old settings of Neilah’s final prayer. So I wrote a new one.

My objective (besides being able to actually sing the piece myself) was inspired by the writing of Alfred Lord Tennyson, who penned the following: “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.’” I wanted to convey (because this is what I feel at the end of Yom Kippur) a confidence that the year ahead will be a good one, that each of us can do better at living our best selves, and we have every reason therefore to write ourselves into the Book of Life.

Here’s the song. It’s only a minute and a half long. It features three of me singing, plus a number of accompanying instruments.

Focus on the clarinet, Jonah. In the opening bars you’ll hear echoes of Kol Nidre, which started the Day of Atonement only twenty-four hours earlier. These opening notes remind us, I hope, that we have gathered here to sincerely prepare for a better year ahead. As the opening notes give way to the ancient words acknowledging God as God, we reaffirm a very real desire to do better with our lives, to make a difference, and to make life mean something substantially meaningful and good.

The clarinet follows along for the minute-and-a-half of this musical ride and then, in the final bars, offers its own final thought. With a jubilant flourish that some will likely frown upon, the piece ends on a celebratory note affirming that our promise to do better is not only a sincere one but one that gives reason to smile at our neighbor and to head home to that bagel and a shmear with unbridled confidence that we will make a difference, that we will, in whatever ways we can, make the world better for everyone.

Which is precisely why I’ve dedicated “Hope Smiles” to you, Jonah. This is how you lived your life: doing what you could – lending a hand, giving comfort, and simply sharing that beautiful smile of yours – to make the world in which you lived a little better for your having been here.

And what if it isn’t true? What if you had your sour moments too? What if you weren’t always there to lend a shoulder? Well, to that I have two responses:

First, in the years since you left us, so many acts of kindness have been offered because of you, in your name, and inspired by you, your impact in the universe has been exponentially increased. Maybe you weren’t a perfect angel, but you were good enough for us to want to remember you in these ways.

And second, there’s an old hasidic story I love which goes like this: The Hafetz Hayyim (Lithuania 1839-1933), renowned for his saintly character, had a student who was falsely arrested. The prosecution, hearing the Hafetz Hayyim would testify on his student’s behalf, said to his colleagues, “Do you know what they say about him? That he came home one day and, finding a thief ransacking his house, ran after him, even while he could plainly see the thief was clutching the rabbi’s possessions, and shouted, ‘I declare all of my property ownerless,’ just so the thief would not be found guilty of stealing anything.” When asked if the attorney actually believed that was true, he replied, “I’m not sure. But they don’t tell stories like that about you or me.”

In life, Jonah, you offered people hope. In death, you continue to remind us that each of us can be a force for good in the world.

And if that isn’t a hopeful conclusion, I don’t know what is. Thanks for the inspiration, boy. Keep smiling, wherever you are.

Love you forever,

P.S. How cool is it that so many people are contributing to Hope Smiles because you once walked this earth?!

BillyHope Smiles — what’s that all about?
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