My name is Ayelet Besso-Cowan and I was one of the two Yoni Jesner Scholars in 2015/16. I spent my gap year at Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim (MMY). As well as an intensive programme of shiurim, volunteering was an essential part of the programme and I chose to volunteer at Hadassah Hospital in the maternity unit, which I did every Friday. I assisted both Arabs and Jews and I know that tolerance and interfaith dialogue was something which was very important to Yoni.
It is an enormous source of pride that I was awarded the Yoni Jesner Scholarship and it drives me to try and do my bit of "tikun olam". The idea that the tragic loss of someone so young with so much potential has proved to be the source of inspiration is just unbelievable and I am proud to be a part of perpetuating Yoni's memory.
I am now studying children's nursing at City, University of London where I am also a "Widening Participation Ambassador". In this role I am encouraging children from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply to University. I am also a part-time youth director at Belmont United Synagogue which allows me to share my Jewish learning which I gained throughout my gap year.
Daniel Gillis is currently the Head of Services at Camp Simcha. In a volunteer capacity, Daniel is on the Board of Management at Edgware Adath, Hatzola Edgware member and London Ambulance Community First Responder. Daniel spent his Gap year at Yeshivat har Etzion (GUSH).
Being a Yoni Jesner Scholar means that it is my duty to continue with Yoni's legacy with my involvements in Jewish studies and communal life.
My name is Gideon Levy.
I was lucky enough to study for two years in Yeshivah Har Etzion, Gush, before studying at University College London. As well as teaching at South Hampstead Cheder I was privileged to be Informal Educator at Hasmonean High School. I have since worked as a teaching assistant at Mathilda Marks-Kennedy Primary School and completed my teacher training gaining a Professional Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).
I am currently in my fourth year teaching Jewish Studies at Wolfson Hillel Primary School. Even without knowing Yoni I was deeply inspired by Yoni and Yoni's family. Their character traits and outlook on life are so deeply inspiring.
It has been fantastic to be a Yoni Jesner scholar which has helped me to carry on my studies and put into practice in my own small way some of those important ideals of Yoni. I wish the Foundation every success for the future.
My name is Eve, I'm 26 years old and I'm a proud Yoni Jesner Scholar.
In 2008, I left London for Jerusalem and spent a year at Midreshet Harova as part of the Bnei Akiva Hachshara programme, Torani. Following my 'gap year', I completed a Psychology degree in Birmingham where I was involved with the JSOC, the wider Jewish community and campus interfaith relations. After graduating, I worked as the chinuch (education) worker for Bnei Akiva UK and enjoyed a short stint at Mitzvah Day before making Aliyah in January 2014. After an intensive period studying Hebrew in Ulpan, I coordinated Bnei Akiva gap year programmes for students from the UK and across Europe.
I am currently working as the community outreach officer for a Jerusalem based charity supporting the elderly, in addition to studying towards a masters degree in non-profit management. I am married to Josh, former fellow BA-nik and we live in Jerusalem.
For me, being a YJ scholar is an honour and serves as a reminder to do what I can to emulate Yoni's values of giving, selflessness and community.
My name is Mia Gray and I’m 18 years old.
I attended Fortismere School where I took my A Levels. I was selected as Head of College and in addition to my responsibilities therein, I also joined the Feminist Society and also co-chair of, Medecins Sans Frontiers, the Politics Society, tutored Year 11 students in mathematics and helped lead the Year 7 Accelerated Reading programme. I also am head of the yearbook team. My main interests are philosophy and reading, but I also love to write, and play my guitar. I will be studying Philosophy and Classical Civilization at Birmingham University after which I hope to do a law conversion and become a Guardian Ad Litem (an advocate for people with disabilities, in court). This is because I want to work in the field of law, but also know that I am helping the people who need it most. Despite preferring philosophy, I’ve had a very political past. I completed the Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award, the Yoni Jesner Award and the Jack Petchey Speak Out Challenge Award.
As well as my work experience with Boris Johnson, I joined the Barnet Youth Board as the Jewish youth representative when I was 13 and from there I was elected onto the UK Youth Parliament. I was active in their British Youth Council debates, because debating is another avid hobby of mine. I’ve participated in the ESU, Debating Matters, and the Transnational Debate against India! The main reason, however, that I entered the political world was to campaign about mental health issues, which led me to creating a short documentary last year to raise consciousness about stigmatism in society, which was the thrust of my campaigning.
This year I secured a place as the youngest team member of Limmud (the biggest Jewish conference in the UK), and I’m the deputy head of my local branch of B’nei Akiva, whose gap year programme I will be joining next year!
I’ve been absolutely privileged to be awarded the Yoni Jesner Scholarship. This will enable me to attend Lehava – B’nei Akiva’s gap year programme. On their scheme, I will be volunteering, doing basic army training, spending some time in a seminary, and working on a Kibbutz, with a youth movement that I love dearly. This is only possible though because of the Yoni Jesner Foundation. I first learnt about Yoni Jesner when I did the Yoni Jesner Award a few years ago, and my admiration and absolute regard of both Yoni and the amazing work that those around him do, make me feel so fortunate to represent you as your Yoni Jesner Scholar. My commitment, and dedication in trying to repay your kindness will never cease. I was awarded the scholarship on account of my work in the community, predominantly my work regarding mental health, which started with helping my friends who were struggling with mental illness, and expanded exponentially until I was voted a member of the UK Youth Parliament and debating with the British Youth council, campaigning to raise awareness of mental health issue, resulting in me making a documentary to show how stigmatism affects those in minority groups.
If I’ve learnt one thing from it all, it’s this: take all the bad things in your life, all the pain and suffering, and turn it into something good. Help others who are going through the same, or use it to motivate your own good deeds. But don’t let the bad things that happen to you ever win, use them to grow and become better because of it. We all face struggles, but they don’t define us. What defines us, is how we react to them, and whether they defeat us, or we grow because of them.
The Yoni Jesner Foundation turned the biggest loss and tragedy into good, and that is why I’m excited to now turn my attentions and commitment to Yoni’s legacy. I truly believe that what you do is beyond inspiring. You’ve enabled me to do something I love, so thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Mia's Blog The YJF is proud to post Mia's blog. Mia was the 2016 recipient of the Yoni Jesner Scholarship, chosen from a group of applicants of exceptionally high standard. Follow her as she shares her thoughts and experiences of her gap year in Israel.
Read about the latest news: Mia Gray makes 30 under 30 list
See Mia's video on YouTube
Mia's YouTube Video