Memories of Yoni

This section contains a selection of thoughts and letters written by friends and aquaintances of Yoni by people who were very close to Yoni and loved him dearly. 

What happens when the light goes out?
We stand alone and cry
And wail, and sob, and pray, and try
To turn the lights back on

Till someone comes to hold our hand
And though dark, still it is
Comforted are we by this
But still
The light has not gone on again
Nor ever will

Merav Leviten

When writing about Yoni its difficult to know where to begin, to write about a person who has achieved so much in such a short time Yoni, a friend to so many a person who was so willing to help out to help others enjoy life. His outgoing personablity and great smile made everyone who met him feel immediately at ease, memories come to mind of a shabbaton in Israel last year organised for all English students in Israel for a year. Many different types of peopled attended some religious, some not at all. After supper on Friday night all of the BA students sat down to sing some shabat songs, the other group of students who were not so religious were sitting by themselves it was Yoni who went to them and invited them to join us. One could go on and on writing about Yoni our beloved friend, he will be in our heart for ever and ever.

Adam Lewis, Benji Peters, Daniel Feld

Yoni Jesner was an amazing person. I have memories of this friendly Scot on all Matza Tiyuls over the past years. A few years later I ended up working in his hometown Glasgow alongside him and then when he went to Israel, continued to format his work into the Assemblies that all who go to Hutch Primary will know well. Often having to contact him since I was not in tune with his wacky ideas and interpretation of the different themes and especially the games he invented.

This summer I was lucky enough to have taken machane with him; he was definitely the life and sole of machane, helping out wherever possible. From putting up tents to entertaining kids with his tae-kwan-do or t-shirt making. He defiantly made an impression on all the chanichim he took at machane and defiantly was a source of amusement lightening everybody’s morning up with his breakfast show. 

James Williams
Former Giffnock Shul Youth Worker and Bnei Akiva Northern Fieldworker

It has been a difficult few days for all of us trying to get our heads around what has happened. Not knowing how we are supposed to feel and how we are supposed to act. We have so often heard about terror attacks in Israel and every time it has affected us. But this time it is so different. For me personally, this is the first time that I have known anyone to have been directly involved. And on this first time I have lost someone who was such a significant and important person in my life. 

When I heard about the attack I immediately thought of my sister Rachel who lives in Tel Aviv. I finally got through to her and was so happy to hear her voice. An hour later I had to call her back to tell her that Yoni Jesner and Gideon Black had been injured and that Yoni was in a critical condition. Being surrounded by my group gave me much needed support. They were all so kind and we all said tehilim (psalms) at the Kotel (Western Wall) for Yoni. There were rumours flying around and I was confused and still in a state of disbelief. 

I decided to spend Chag (the festival) at Rachel’s in Tel Aviv. There was nowhere else I would have been comfortable at this time and I think it was important that we were together. I arrived in Tel Aviv, and together with Rachel, I went directly to Ichilov hospital where almost all of Yoni’s immediate family were already gathered. Also at the hospital were many family friends and yeshiva friends, many were saying tehillim. There were few words but the silence was understood.

There were several hundreds at the funeral many of whom I knew. Family and friends, Bogrim who have made aliya, past shlichim, ex-glaswegians, Rabbanim and many yeshiva boys. Ari gave an emotional eulogy which brought a tear to my eye. I could feel the camera of the press on me, almost intruding on my thoughts of Yoni. Yoni has been buried in the cemetery at the entrance to Jerusalem, a place I am sure you have all passed. I know that everytime I make that journey into Jerusalem I will be upset. I will think of Yoni and all that he accomplished in his short life. All that he gave to all of us. All that we learnt from him. His ability to make us all laugh whilst ensuring that we accomplished the given task. I will miss him.

Chag with Rachel in Tel Aviv was a quiet time with lots of opportunities for Rachel and I to simply talk, try to talk and share our emotions. I had not realised until then how beneficial communication can be and the importance of family. Having spent two very emotional days with my mobile attached to my ear it was relief to turn it off and have some time to myself. I of course attached the mobile right back on my ear the second Shabbat was over!

This morning I came back to meet my group in Jerusalem. I have just started trying to get back into ordinary life. Not an easy task. Everyone around me is constantly asking me how I am, for which I am grateful. Every person who has ever heard of the Jesner family is with all of those who will miss him. 

I went with Rachel to visit the family today. Rachel saw her friends Heidi, Gabi and Jared. But where was my friend? Different members of the family were reacting and coping in different ways but the bond between them all was unmissable. After I left I realised that not only had I given the Jesners something by visiting but they had given me something too. They filled me with a renewed sense of strength. 

It is impossible for me to get out on the email all my feelings but I really wanted to write to you and let you know a little about Yoni’s funeral and the way his family and friends are copying with this death here in Israel. I want to encourage us all to pick up the phone to call our friends when we need to talk and to write an email when there is something to say. May we never forget how precious our lives are and may Yoni’s memory stay with us and give us strength and inspiration forever.

David Collins

Bnei Akiva has this incredible knack of bringing people together. I was Rosh (head) at Aleph Chalutzi Machane (camp) this summer, when I met Yoni. Although one of the many madrichim at the camp, it was clear from very early on that Yoni would be a central part of our tsevet (team). 

The relationship you build with your tsevet is unique. It’s three weeks of 24-7. You see them when they’re up and when they’re down. You see them at their best and at their worst. You see how they cope with problems. You get a real insight into what that person stands for, who they really are. 

In the three weeks that we shared at camp this summer, I truly believe that we had the privilege to see the real Yoni.

Yoni was always proud to be a BA-nik (member of Bnei Akiva). We are used to proclaiming our ideology at Bnei Akiva – Am Yisrael, B’Eretz Yisrael, Al Pi Torat Yisrael (the people of Israel, in the land of Israel, living by the Torah of Israel) – but few really live out these dreams. Yoni did. He loved Israel, Torah and his people. As one of the more senior madrichim on the tsevet, he was a shining example to the younger ones of what it means to be a Banik, and most of all, what it means to be a mensch (a good and decent person).

From day one of camp, Yoni was absolutely brilliant. He showed off his talents and stamina throughout the day. He was a madrich as much at home with the serious as he was with the plain ridiculous. 

Whatever was going on at machane, Yoni was somehow involved. He would inject his own individual talents into whatever programme he was running, always sprinkling a bit of Yoni into everything. Yoni won respect from the kids very quickly. Whenever he had something to say, they would listen. His groups were always popular – full of fun and inspiration. Whether dressed as a fluffy animal or sitting down discussing the problems that Israel faces today, Yoni was there and was appreciated.

Yoni was famed at machane for the morning “radio show” that he co-presented during breakfast. In the show, Yoni incredibly managed to educate the kids about contemporary Jewish issues, through the show’s mix of music, jokes and wacky interviews. It was his unique ability to channel education through such media of entertainment that made him so brilliant. 

Yoni always wanted things to be perfect and whenever he thought that things could be done better, he was not too shy to say so. Whenever there was a complaint, he always had a recommendation or solution to offer – the sign of a gifted leader. 

Yoni’s total commitment to Judaism set a wonderful example to the kids and tsevet alike. Whether during shul (synagogue), mealtimes or the rest of the day, Yoni led the way with his dynamic blend of knowledge and fun. Whenever a spare moment in the evenings, Yoni would fight off the tiredness and find strength to open up a sefer (book) and study some Torah.

It was a true privilege to have worked with Yoni over the summer. It is a blessing to have known Yoni and to have been touched by him. The 124 young people that made up Aleph Chalutzi camp 2002 will always cherish the memories they have of Yoni – our colleague, our friend and our inspiration. 

Our prayers are with Yoni’s family and friends at this most difficult time.

Jonny Steel

Dear Hashem

Please look after my dear friend Yoni who you have chosen to come and be with you in heaven. He’ll probably have loads of questions to ask you since he devoted his life to learning more about you and studying your books, you were his favourite author. Be patient with him and challenge him, it won’t take long for you to see how clever he is. Give him your time and he will be a good friend to you just like he has been to me. If you ever have a problem you can most definitely turn to him and he can always be relied on to give good advice. If you ever need a shoulder to cry on turn to Yoni as he is one of the kindest, most caring people I have ever met. Tell him how much I love him and make sure he looks down on me once in a while; I will make him proud.

All my love

Jeremy, former Glasgow Maccabi youth worker, says he remembers when the youth forum organised the strawberry fields night club evening. Yoni was buying drinks for under ages in the club and he got caught buying the drinks and was thrown out the night club! He actually insisted that no one would leave the club with him. He went on his own, quite happy to leave.

Jeremy would like to send a message that he is thinking of everyone in Glasgow in our time of mourning and hopes we can all pull through together as a community.

Dear Yoni

You are in our hearts
Your are in our souls
Leaving us in this way
You left many holes

To say we are sorry
To say we are sad
Is not enough for a 
Tragedy so bad

We wish you could still
Be here with us
If only that suicide bomber
Had not got on the bus

We prayed for your life
Many came for you
To say we, wish you better
To say we’re missing you

We wish you were here
But sadly you can’t be
We want to hold you in our arms
Especially me

We just want to say 
What a great friend you were to us
Oh how much we wish
That suicide bomber didn’t get on the bus

Sarah-Lee Simpson

It doesn’t seem real to me. I know that Yoni is dead but I can’t understand it. Yoni, who wanted to be a doctor, lying in hospital. Yoni, a member of the Glasgow chevra kadisha, burial society, is himself buried. I stood at his grave and placed a stone on the earth and tried to make myself realize that his body was under it. But I can see him – sitting across the table from me at the shul oneg, taking off his glasses and laughing, walking, talking – simple everyday actions. In my mind he is still alive. 

People try to comfort me. They tell me that eventually the grief will go away, that I will forget. That’s what I fear most right now, that I, that we, will forget. That when I haven’t seen him in reality for a while the pictures in my mind will go dim.

I don’t want this to happen. Perhaps there is a way we can partially prevent this. Maybe if we started some sort of project in his memory, something that was important to him in his life, that he worked for. I am far away in Israel, but my thoughts are in Glasgow, with my community, the community that Yoni also lived in and cared for. The exact nature of the project should be decided by everyone here, but I would like to be involved in whatever way I can, if you decide to do this, to ensure the memories at least do not disappear.

Talya Granat

Yoni at Belmont House secondary school

Yoni joined the school at the beginning of senior 1 and left after senior 6, in the summer of 2001. Belmont house is a small school and his loss has been a devastating impact for all of us – both staff and pupils.

Yoni was a brilliant student – he gained five straight A passes at the Higher Grade subject and three A grades at SYS exams.

Yoni was an outstanding prefect at the school and he was looked up to by the younger pupils and we shall remember him evermore for his humanity and ability to get on with everyone, both young and old. He was committed to his faith but in our mixed community he was always tolerant, friendly and understanding to others.

On leaving Yoni said to our headmaster, “I will miss the ambiance, my friends and our common room”.

In short he was just a great guy, a very nice person, and our sympathy goes out to all his friends and family.

When I was 5 I wanted someone to sit with in shul, downstairs with the men, and I didn’t know where to go. Yoni always sat at the back by the window and nervously I went and sat next to Yoni. Yoni kept asking if I needed the page. And I always sat next to Yoni after that.

My 8th birthday Yoni had got me a teddy called Goody and now I never go to bed without him.

When I was six at Chanukah I went to give him a present (of a shul that I had made with models of me and him). He said he was going to come round sometime and give me a Chanukah present and it turned out to be a nice robot dog that I named Channy. 

At the end of primary 3 he took me and Pinny to the science centre before he went off to Yeshiva in Israel. 

But I still have seen Yoni one of the times at Talya’s and David’s goodbye party. And after the goodbye party me and Yoni walked to shul and had a race down the hill.

Yoni taught me lots and lots of things that I wouldn’t know if Yoni hadn’t taught me and he was also very kind.

I am very glad Yoni was in shul when I did Aleinu on the Bimah for the first time. 

And now I want everyone here, in Israel and everywhere to have a peaceful rest of the year.


Yariv Granat

Yoni my chavruta, my co-madrich, my roommate and my friend.

I met Yoni 6 years ago at BA camp where he was difficult to miss. Although not from London or Manchester, everyone knew him.

The cheevraman (friendly guy) and a natural born leader even as a chanich (kid). Able always to be funny or be serious – whatever the moment required, Yoni’s contribution to all his Machanot (camps) made them what they were.

As I arrived in Gush (the yeshiva where Yoni studied) a year and a month ago I booked in a chavruta (a learning session) with Yoni as quickly as I could. Learning with Yoni was a great privilege and very exciting. One thing for certain is, it was never boring. Yoni was my only chavruta to call his seforim (books) ‘beasts’ and to call the Ramban – ‘Ramban nostril’! We learnt through every parashat hashevua (weekly portion of Torah). As the Yeshiva year continued we developed in our textual skills and knowledge of Shiurim (classes) together. Yoni had an amazing ability to read a Rashi or Ramban or peshat hamikra and find a relevant message for us and our times. 

Yoni did not just learn Torah as a text but learnt it as G-d’s religious and ethical instruction book for mankind.

Yoni always wrote our ideas down, not just in chavruta but even in casual conversation. He would whip out a notepad and jot a quote or idea down. 

Towards the end of the year his love for teaching and sharing Torah with others led him to a project which he assigned himself. He decided to prepare Shiurim to give when he got back to Britain. I remember that he spent many weeks and when into great detail until he became an expert in his first subject. 

When I discovered, 4 months ago, that I was to be taking camp as a senior madrich, together with younger madrichim, I was quite anxious, until I found out that my senior co-madrich was Yoni. 

Both coming from yeshiva we had big educational goals and dreams of changing the fact of Bnei Akiva and Anglo-Jewry, which we discussed in yeshiva. When it came to brainstorming ideas Yoni accepted the ideas that would work and rejected those that would flop – he was always right. 

I can honestly say Yoni was the best madrich I have ever seen and I learnt so much from working alongside him. The nicest thing to see was that he loved doing it and got so much satisfaction from a good kvutza, Tochnit and shiur (programme or class). 

Every morning at camp Yoni and I hosted a radio programme called ‘Lecky and Necky at Brecky’, in which Yoni was long-haired, high-voiced DJ. His ability to improvise and crack jokes on the spot , and make comments which were funny just out of sheer madness was unbelievable.

At lunch time Yoni organised a system of Divrei Torah, where the chanichim read out Halachic Scruples. These were weird and wonderful scenarios, ending in a halachic dilemma. 

These examples were full of Yoni’s unique humour. ‘You are walking to shul and a fridge falls out of a tree onto your head, just as you recover an evil tooth fairy picks your ear with a tooth pick which causes you to be late for shul’.

Yoni could keep the chanichim enthralled and entertained for hours, and whenever the Bnei Akiva timetable collapsed, Yoni would jump in and save the machane. 

Yoni never had to put on an act for ‘Dugma Ishit’, but was a natural role model.

He was cool, religious and extremely passionate and genuine in his beliefs, which he was able to give over to the chanichim. When it came to hadracha all other madrichim stood back in awe of the future Mazkir (head of Bnei Akiva) – Yoni Jesner. 

Just over a month ago, the Shana Bet (second year) Brits returned to the Gush.

Last year Yoni managed to move into quite a ‘posh’ room, so in Ellul Zman, I decided to move in with him. Yoni decorated the room with a Scottish flag and many photos of his beloved family. Every time he ate a pot noodle he hung the plastic fork on the wall. Yoni made sure the room was hygienic and criticised my lack of domesticity to the extent that he insisted on teaching me how to fold shirts. 

Yoni often came out with random one-liners whilst in bed trying to get to sleep. He once said during a discussion about the Hebrew language: ‘You know the difference between ken (yes) and lo (no) is the difference between getting a fancy dress costume you want and one you don’t.’ Every few nights he would go for a serious jog and often when I woke up at 12 midnight Yoni would be on the floor doing sit-ups.

Our philosophical discussions were always fascinating and Yoni had a much broader and experienced view of life than most people I know.

He taught me so much about life and Judaism. I will miss his wise advice. 

Yoni Jesner, my Rebbi Umori, (Rabbi and teacher), will forever be my inspiration.

Baruch Baigel
London and Gush Etzion
September 2002

“Tzar Li Alecha, Achi Yehonatan, Naamtah Li Meod”
“I am grieving for my brother Yehonatan you were most dear to me”

Shmuel II: 1, 26

Dearest Bogrim

I was sure I had written my last email to you all. And this was the one email that I spent two years dreading writing. 

I heard that Yoni had been injured maybe 2 hours after the time of the pigua (attack). The grape-vine is unbelievably efficient in spreading its terrible tidings. The next 24 hours fell into a kind of blur of phone calls and hoping, Tehillim (psalms) and updates, letting people know and more hoping against hope and then numbly hearing the news that Yoni had passed way and actually spending a whole 2 or 3 minutes pretending that I hadn’t heard. 

Even now I keep thinking that it is not possible that Yoni was killed. Even typing those few words makes me feel sick and tearful and yet I wanted to write to you. Honestly, I want to hug you – at the funeral that is all I did. I drove 6 hours on Friday afternoon to spend 40 minutes at the funeral because all I really wanted to do was to hug the people who loved Yoni, or knew him, or just knew of him. Not to say anything but just to squeeze a hand and rest an arm around a shoulder – to let someone know that in the midst of this madness we still have each other. 

And for those of you sitting in Britain, we can’t hug each other and an email is a pretty flimsy second best. But I just wanted to be in touch and let you know – those of you who couldn’t be at the funeral, those of you who could not cry from a distance – that in the midst of all this madness we still have each other.

British Bnei Akiva has become something different to what it was last week. At 12 o’clock on Thursday a Palestinian suicide bomber changed the face of British Bnei Akiva. He changed it for ever, it will never be quite the same again. Yes we will still have Shabbat afternoon Peulot and Shabbatot and Machanot but something will be different because the blast on the number four bus dragged us all into the tragic family of terror victims. A family that until now for most of us, if we are honest, has been just another Tzedaka (charity). A massive family of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, fiancées and girlfriends and boyfriends all of whom have lost someone dear to them. To a point, time will heal what is now a gaping wound and even though it seems impossible, sometime soon we will be laughing again and joking around and for most of us our lives will move on. But in the life of the movement from Thursday at 12 o’clock there will ALWAYS be something missing, something hurting, something different.

Finally, I just want to say something about Yoni. I, like some of you, didn’t know him that well. For our second year of Shilchut (emissaries in London) he was a Gush and during the first year he was in Glasgow and apart from Shabbat Halrgun and a few other occasions we never really chatted. The only time after that when we kind of met up properly was this summer at Aleph Chalutzi. And even so Yoni left me with a lasting impression which I want to share with you because its become a kind of legacy. Yoni was crazy enough and passionate enough to be a phenomenal Madrich. He went just that little bit too far – enough to make him special. He would do crazy things and be a tiny bit larger than life and that’s what allowed him to get his message across to his Chanichim, his fellow Madrichim and to hundreds whose lives Yoni touched. His message was simply that there are some things that are really important and they are worth making a fuss about. I imagine that someone who knew Yoni better could probably make a whole long list but I only know about three such things: learning Torah, the centrality of the Land of Israel and being a Ben Adam, being a good person.

SOMETHING good has to come out of this terrible tragedy and maybe if all of us can learn from Yoni’s attributes and remember the things that were special for him then maybe Yoni’s memory will become, through us, even more blessed.

Yehi Zichro Baruch – may his memory be blessed.

Michael Band
Sukkot 5763
September 2002

Yehi Zichro Baruch – may his memory be blessed.