To celebrate the life of Mark Dunn, who died at 32 in July 2014 from complications from treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his family made several donations to Adath Shalom in Morris Plains.
Appropriately enough, they include a significant donation to the special-needs fund at the Conservative synagogue, which is to be renamed in Mark’s memory.
“The fund will enable us to apply best practices and cutting-edge techniques in our religious school,” said congregation president Michael Stepak, “so we can make sure all Adath Shalom’s children have the opportunities” that Mark had.
When the religious school was much smaller than its current 145 students, it was able to implement a specially tailored program so that Mark could learn Hebrew.
Mark was born with DiGeorge syndrome, a defect in chromosome 22 that causes a range of issues. They vary from person to person but can include learning disabilities, mental health issues, cleft palate, distinctive facial features, kidney function problems, and autoimmune issues.
On March 26, Mark’s parents, Arnold and Michelle Dunn, and his brother, Jeffrey, announced the gift at a special Ma’ariv service attended by nearly 200 people. The ceremony also saw the unveiling of an artistic rendering of the initial words of the Sh’ma, created by artist Michael Shacham, which now adorns the wall at the edge of the bima.
Notwithstanding the challenges Mark faced, his father remembered a man “with a warm smile, kindness, a sharp wit, and patience.” He continued, “He had no enemies. Though his life was short and he faced many health issues and learning disabilities, he persevered.”
Mark Dunn not only attended New York Institute of Technology, but also gave the valedictory address in 2001, according to his father. He was also, apparently, a humble person. As his dad closed his brief talk, he said, “Right about now, Mark is saying, ‘Enough, dad. It’s time to go eat.’”
Following the service, Rabbi Moshe Rudin commented, “He fought so hard and was so active in the Relay for Life,” a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society. “He was someone who so much wanted to live. To me, it still seems I cannot believe he’s gone, but he died on his own terms. With an amazing attitude he said, ‘My time on earth is over.’ I think about him every day. He was such an inspiring person. I always felt knowing Mark was brushing with greatness. He had so much humility, and he was so determined” in everything he did.
In fact, three months before his death, Mark decided to donate $100,000 of his own money to Hackensack University Medical Center, where he had received two stem cell transplants.
In the lobby of the synagogue, a slide show offered a glimpse of those things that brought Mark Dunn joy, including taking part in the Relay for Life and playing golf. A number of slides showed him at baseball games. “His happiest days were spent watching the Yankees win,’” said his father.
Among the food served following the ceremony were hot dogs.