Hunter's Space to be dedicated

PHOTO: Toni Jaffe, mother of Hunter Jackson Jaffe, z"l, pictured in "Hunter's Space" at Portland Jewish Academy prior to its dedication. The mural is inspired by Hunter's favorite colors and the space, located on the school's ground floor will house some of his favorite toys and books. Photo by Rockne Roll.

Next month, Portland Jewish Academy will dedicate Hunter’s Space, a soothing, quiet place for students to hang out and take a break away from the classroom. 
A 2013 graduate of PJA, Hunter “Reuven” Jackson Jaffe, z”l, passed away Aug. 28, 2020, at the age of 21. Hunter’s Space is a collaboration between the school; his mother, Toni Jaffe; and Hunter’s “Jewish grandparents,” Priscilla and Tony Kostiner.
“It gives kids a great space to read a book, do a quiet activity, find a calm and quiet place away from the classroom to be with a teacher or friend,” says PJA Principal Merrill Hendin. “It now has a beautiful and calming mural and some favorite stuffed toys and books of Hunter’s in it.”
“It’s nice to see his things live on beyond his short life,” says Toni, who also donated Hunter’s rock collection and Harry Potter books to the school. “PJA really got him. They loved him, cared for him, educated him. He grew up there. … He had dyslexia, and they really worked with him. He wrote beautiful poetry at PJA.”
Toni says she loved the Kostiners’ idea to create the space in Hunter’s honor. The three shared memories and ideas with artist Lolly Jamerson, who painted a mural reflecting Hunter.
“His soul, his personality was butterflies and rainbows and flowers,” says Priscilla. “Hunter loved working with little kids.” 
Toni explains she “won” the Kostiners at a Passover seder in their home when Hunter’s other mother, Luna, was five months pregnant with Hunter. Toni found the afikomen (a piece of matzah hidden during the seder that has to be reclaimed by the hosts for dessert). 
“Bargain with it,” Priscilla says she told Toni.  “We can’t finish the seder without it.” 
Toni told them that since she and Luna are Jews by choice, what Hunter really would need was Jewish grandparents. The couple immediately said, “Done.” They took the role seriously, beginning with Tony holding Hunter at his bris, celebrating holidays and birthdays together, and babysitting.
“For our grandsons, this was Cousin Hunter,” says Priscilla. “He was very much part of our lives. …We were very shaken by his death. We wanted to do something in his memory and talked to Merrill.” 
Because of the pandemic, the project was delayed until this year.
“PJA had a special place in his life and in my life,” says Toni. 
Hunter attended PJA from Pre-K through eighth grade and went to the KidsCorner afterschool program, where he volunteered when he was older.
He became a bar mitzvah at Congregation Shaarie Torah and went to Israel on PJA’s eighth-grade trip, coordinated by PJA Jewish studies teacher Shahar Eden. Shahar was again leading the PJA trip 10 years later, when Toni and her adopted son, Michael Peck, became b’nai mitzvah as adults in Israel during the Portland community trip in March. 
“Hunter was with me in spirit as I wore his bar mitzvah tallit,” says Toni.
During the trip, Toni learned that Shahar’s father had been killed in a helicopter crash that was turned into a memorial that a group of Portlanders visited. Toni saw Shahar at the Tel Aviv airport at the end of both groups’ trips.
“I got to share his grief over the loss of his father, and he shared my grief of the loss of Hunter,” says Toni.
The June 15 dedication of the space will be private, but Hunter’s former classmates are invited. For information, contact PJA at 503-244-0126.


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