These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Introducing the Volunteering-Monitor

Posted on November 8, 2012 by Naomi Minsky

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Hi Everyone,

You will see on the wall that there is a volunteering monitor. Every time you volunteer please shade in a square. The aim is to get 400 hours by the 31st December to honour the memory of Ben and Marla the Pardes students who were killed during the Intifada.

Below is what I read in community lunch last week.

Happy volunteering
Naomi

At age 16 I was on a tour of Israel with my youth movement. We were walking in Tel Aviv when my Madricha burst into tears. Later, I found out that we were at the spot where her friend Yoni Jesner had been killed during the Intifada. That night she told us his story and his legacy has stayed with me since.

Yoni Jesner was a British 19 years old he was on his gap year studying at Yeshiva when he boarded a bus that was targeted by a suicide bomber. I would like to share with you what his brother said at his funeral.

“Yoni really was something special. He cared passionately about those things that were important to him and worked tirelessly to ensure he was doing the maximum to help as many people and good causes as possible. He had a very strong sense of what was right and fair and would never shy away from arguing his corner. Every decision Yoni ever made was consulted over and thought through as though his life depended on it. Nothing was too trivial that it was beyond him.

Yoni was the force behind the expansion of Glasgow Bnei Akiva, his local youth group. He organised and ran cross-communal events as well as inter-youth movement activities. Yoni was responsible for sending the Jewish Youth delegation to the Scottish Parliament. He was a Jewish Studies teacher and was in charge of running the children and youth services at his local synagogue where he also assisted the Rabbi. Yoni found the time to tutor other youngsters to help them with their schoolwork and studied himself at the Glasgow Yeshiva. Yoni was also the youngest volunteer at the Glasgow Jewish burial society. He read from the Torah in synagogue almost every week and all this he accomplished in his final year of school when he was also to sit his A-levels. In true Yoni style he obtained 5 ‘A’s and secured a place to study medicine at University College London. It is fair to say, without exaggeration, that Yoni in his 19 years achieved more than many people do in a lifetime”.

One of the other things Yoni did was to lead Jewish assemblies at the school he attended. He saw these as a vital opportunity to educate. Yoni was concerned that when he left Glasgow there would be no-one to continue with the assemblies and so before he left to study at Yeshiva, Yoni turned down an inter-railing holiday around Europe with his friends and instead spent four weeks at the community centre writing assemblies for the entire year he would be away so Glasgow would not have to go without.”

When Yoni’s body was recovered they found in his rucksack a notebook that had a collection of Yoni’s thoughts written down. He was not writing them for anyone but himself, they were to serve as guidelines that he strove to live by. When I was at University I had these stuck up on my wall a to serve as a source of inspiration for me. My favourite is:

” if you find it hard to motivate yourself, ask yourselves at the end of the week what will I have achieved? would I have watched T.V or would I have watched my actions? Will I have changed my hairstyle or changed someone’s life? Will I have shared gossip or shared knowledge…”

Yoni’s Family and the British Jewish community were determined to ensure that Yoni’s memory was kept alive. Last year I was privileged to coordinate the Yoni Jesner Volunteering Project at a school. This is a programme run at every Jewish secondary school in the UK. Students would record 20+ hours of volunteering and service to the community in Yoni’s honour. They would attend an award ceremony hosted by the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

My students were so inspired by Yoni’s story that many of them collected well beyond 20 hours of volunteering. It was wonderful to be able to watch 11 and 12 year olds fuelled by the values of Tikun Olam unquestionably give up their time and energy to help others. As well as gaining a lot of nachos, I learned with my students that volunteering is more than an act of Gemilut Chasadim but it is also a way of honouring and creating a legacy for those who like Yoni serve as role models to us. I know that when I hear tragic accounts of lives lost I despair and feel helpless. However, I take comfort in the saying Zichron L Vracha, may their memory be a blessing. Volunteering for me is one way to feel that I am can be blessed by the memory of Yoni Jesner. I take what I most admire in Yoni’s character and try to emulate it myself.

So why am I sharing this with you? Because I am passionate about volunteering, see it as an expression of Judaism and want you all to as well. (in a non coercive manner).

You will see on the wall there is a volunteering-monitor. We the students of Pardes have been set the challenge of collectively completing 500 hours of volunteering by 31st December. This date has been chosen as it is when Pardes is running a Yom Iyun shel Chesed to remember Ben Blustein and Marla Bennett who died in a suicide bombing during the Intifada. This challenge will enable us to record the Gemilut Chasidim that we do as a community and honour the memory of those who have gone before us. Unfortunately we cannot change what has happened but we are responsible for maintaining memory, what better way to do this than by living out the most beautiful Jewish values.

Every time you volunteer please shade in a block on the volunteer-monitor. Whilst there will not be an award ceremony with Rabbi Jonathon Sacks we will be having Volunteering happy hour to celebrate archiving certain bench marks.

I appreciate that the minhag here is to close any talk lasting longer than 60 seconds with a blessing. However, today is different. I hope that by sharing Yoni’s story you will not feel emotionally blackmailed but inspired to go out, volunteer, perform acts of Gemilut Chasadim enabling us to become blessings to his memory and others who like him who personify what it means to be a mensch.