I was reading the Post on Friday and there was a full page story in the magazine section on Yoni Jesner, the 19-year-old student from Scotland who was killed on the #4 bus in Tel Aviv September 19. My first inclination was to skip over the article…I wasn’t sure I could handle another heart wrenching story of a life cut down so young. Maybe I could just bury my head in the sand, just a bit, just this one time, and defer the pain. We all have our coping strategies. This could be my antidote...I know I'm a news junkie: I have to know it all, as it happens, in real time. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to sleep for the last two years.
But I did read the article. As expected, it talked about what an amazing person Yoni was. The good deeds he did, his commitment to Israel. The hook that makes Yoni’s story noteworthy on NPR and across the international media is that his family decided to donate his organs, and one kidney went to an 8-year-old Palestinian girl in East Jerusalem. His family stressed that saving a life, any life, was what Yoni - who was studying to be a doctor – would have wanted. Scott Simon of NPR saw this as a message of hope.
But the article didn’t focus on this. Instead it described the hundreds who gathered for his funeral in Israel and the memorial service in Glasgow. It talked about how he ran Bnei Akiva, and the Jewish Youth Council, taught Hebrew, helped with adult services in synagogue. He was always concerned about others. He had a unique ability to make people laugh. He was so loved.
The article described the good deeds Yoni did on the very morning of his death: going out of his way to return a cheap pen inadvertently ‘borrowed’ while signing a check three weeks earlier at a used bookshop. And participating in an early minyan at the shiva house for a friend’s father. On the ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, Yoni was reading Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. How ironic is that?
As I read Yoni’s story, I was struck by the similarities with Marla. There were thousands at her funeral, too; hundreds at her memorial ceremonies. She did volunteer work, treated all people as equals no matter what their background or ethnicity, was committed to Israel. She led women’s prayer services. She had a smile that would melt your heart if you were privileged to see it, and so many had that privilege. She too was so loved.
Marla never knew Yoni but I know they could have been good friends. They both had that ability to touch a person at his or her very core. If I hadn’t opened the paper and read about Yoni, I never would have known how special he was. And if not for Marla, I might very well have been tempted to skip over the article entirely. It’s important to read every one of these articles. To try to comprehend the world that each individual lost to us embodied. To feel in our hearts, as we say every year at Pesach, as if we ourselves had been taken out of Egypt.