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Walking in our Uncle Yoni's footsteps

Yoni Jesner was an 19-year-old on a gap year in Israel when he was killed by a suicide bomber. His nieces Chloe and Leora Jesner never knew him. But they are inspired by his legacy.

    Chloe and Leora
    Chloe and Leora

    We are 13-year-old twin sisters and Yoni Jesner was our uncle. We have always known about Uncle Yoni. He was killed by a suicide bomb in Israel 15 years ago this month, before we were born. Uncle Yoni was 19 and just beginning his second gap year in Israel when he was killed.

    He was head of Bnei Akiva in Glasgow and he was very involved in the Jewish community there — representing them at the Scottish Youth Parliament as well as being the youngest member of the Chevra Kadisha (the Jewish Burial Society).

    Yoni Jesner
    Yoni Jesner

    Uncle Yoni planned to be a doctor and had a place to study medicine at University College Hospital London but was killed before he could take it up. After he died, our family decided to donate his organs, meaning that Uncle Yoni could save lives after his death — one of his organs even went to a young Palestinian girl.

    We have always loved hearing stories about Uncle Yoni and feel a real connection to him even though we didn’t meet him. This year, we were finally old enough to take part in the Yoni Jesner Awards. We are the first members of Yoni’s family to take part. The Yoni Jesner Awards, run by JLGB, encourage people our age to get involved by doing acts of kindness and volunteering.

    Each year, Grandma (Yoni’s mum, Marsha Gladstone) speaks to hundreds of people in schools and talks about Uncle Yoni, what he was like and why he was so special. One of our favourite things to hear about him is how he would always find a way to bring the best out of people — by telling jokes, making friends or being silly. Uncle Yoni was once asked to help teach a barmitzvah boy who was really struggling and had tried several different tutors.

    Uncle Yoni took on the challenge and very quickly had the boy running around the dining room table while reciting his portion; our uncle had found the best way to get him to learn. This story helped us to realise that spending time and showing an interest in someone can make a huge difference to people’s lives — this is what the Yoni Jesner Awards are all about.

    For the YJ Award, we felt some pressure to do well, as having the same name carried a responsibility. We really wanted to go above and beyond and managed to finish over 100 hours of volunteering, completing the Yoni Jesner Plus Award. Now we have finished the Award, we realise the pressure of the name didn’t matter. We feel like we have stepped into Uncle Yoni’s shoes by helping people. When we were volunteering, we felt like we were walking along with Uncle Yoni, carrying on what he did.

    So far, over 1,000 young people aged 11-13 have taken part in the Yoni Jesner Awards, each finishing at least 20 hours of volunteering. We volunteered at Edgware Beavers, helped a local family who has a child with special needs and assisted our local Mencap group with their weekly football sessions at Borehamwood Football Club.

    As our other Uncle, Ari, said at Uncle Yoni’s funeral, Yoni achieved more in his 19 years than most achieve in 90. We hope that Uncle Yoni is proud of us and all of those who have taken part in the Yoni Jesner Awards. Uncle Yoni wrote: “If you don’t do it, who will?” By doing the award we are motivated to help others as Uncle Yoni did.