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In Memory of Yoni Jesner Z"l
Sat in the Sukkah at his parents' home in Hampstead Garden Suburb, in the heart of the Jewish encleve of north-west London, Dr Daniel Ben-ari hosts a group of twenty young professionals, all of whom come together for the annual yahrzeit siyum (memorial celebration) of Yoni Jesner's life.
Born in Glasgow, Yoni was a 19-year-old student at Gush yeshiva, who had just started his second year there, when he was killed onboard the No.4 bus in Tel Aviv in late September 2002. Famously, his kidney was donated to a Palestinian girl, helping to save her life.
His cousin, Gideon Black, who is now studying to be a rabbi in Israel, was also onboard the bus, but survived unscathed.
Speaking about his late friend, whom he met through the Bnei Akiva youth movement, Dr Ben-ari said: "Some people can live for 120 years and do a year's worth of good deeds. Yoni did a lifetime's good deeds in 19 years".
For example: "Before his year off he had spent the whole summer after his A-levels (school leavers' exams) in Scotland preparing Jewish assemblies for Jewish kids in non-Jewish schools in Glasgow. He had previously gone in every week to take assemblies and wanted to provide ready-made versions for the time he was away."
He remembers him as someone who "would always make an effort to help people, particularly when he felt they were responding awkwardly to a situation.
"If he felt someone was feeling embarrassed he would often start acting hilariously. This was not because he was eccentric. He simply wanted to take the focus away from that person. He was always thinking about the comfort of others."
Yoni was planning to study at the prestigious University College London medical school the following September, where Dr Ben-ari himself studied.
"We were going to share a flat together after our year out following school, but he elected to stay a second year in yeshiva. Although I wanted my best friend alongside me, I was really proud that he wanted to stay in Israel and do more," said Dr Ben-ari, who had just started medical school when the tragedy occurred.
"When the news came through that he was on a life-support machine and wasn't going to make it I felt numb. I remember the call came through and I sat in my room staring into space.
"It probably took a year to fully sink in. There are times even now when I've got to do things that are difficult that I imagine him next to me spurring me on. In fact I'm sure he is!"
How did the loss of his "best friend" affect his relationship with Israel? "I think when something like that happens you don't question your ideology; you hold it. When someone who was your best friend loses his life on Israeli soil it just makes the cause seem more real.
"At the time your faith tells you it was something that God meant to happen. Obviously I believe that now, and believed it then too. Perhaps there's also an element of self-preservation at the time; to say 'it was meant to be' to try and alleviate feelings of anger.
"The morning Yoni died he went to the shiva (mourning service) of the father of a friend of ours in Jerusalem. It was a Thursday, so someone had to read from the Torah. No one had prepared this but, typical of Yoni, he volunteered to do it. It was the last reading of the Torah, when Moses says his goodbyes, so in a way it was also Yoni doing the same."
Ari Jesner, who is one of three siblings surviving Yoni, is perhaps best remembered for dealing with the world's media in a dignified and resolute manner, after his brother's death and throughout the media fanfare concerning the kidney donation.
"I was immersed in trying to create something good from what happened. The fact he managed to save another life meant that there was actually something positive to cling to after the tragedy," said Mr Jesner.He added: "There's been a ripple effect with the setting up of the Yoni
Jesner Foundation, in which people have raised money and promoted causes in his memory, which is so important to the family.
"As well as the foundation, which among other things supplies merit
scholarships for medical school students each year, there's also a legacy at Jewish schools in the form of the Yoni Jesner awards for people who have performed chesed or good deeds."
Mr Jesner, a lawyer, named his two-year-old son Yonathan in his brother's memory. His sister, who lives in Israel, named her son Yoni.
Two weeks ago, the actual day of his yahrzeit, saw 60 people attend a
ceremony at Yoni's grave in Jerusalem. "I couldn't get there this year but it's always so special to go. Dad spoke and mum wrote something that was read out. With his yahrzeit coming between the High Holy Days and Sukkot it's always an intense period in our lives and a time when we are thinking about Yoni's life."He says his commitment to Israel has only been "strengthened" by the
"To Israelis we were obviously just another family who had lost someone to an attack. However, the positive that came out of the tragedy was the fact that a little Palestinian girl was able to benefit from his death by receiving his kidney."
He added: "What happened to Yoni was unique to the Anglo-Jewish community because that part of diaspora Jewry had lost one of its own to terrorism. It's still strange when I realize the enormous impact Yoni had on people's lives because to me he was always 'little Yoni', the youngest of four siblings.
"People still come up to me today and mention him, or kids who had him as their youth leader in Bnei Akiva ring up to say great things about him. It's still really comforting to know he made such a difference."