Yoni Jesner’s mum Marsha this week said she wished she could come up with a “sexier” name for volunteering, to make it sound more attractive. A day after that interview, Jewish Care – one of our greatest charities – said it was struggling to recruit volunteers. Is Marsha onto something? Do we need to re-brand volunteering in the community?
While the action of volunteering is rewarding, the mention of it can cause huffs and sighs in many youngsters. Attracting the community’s next generation – as Marsha does with the Yoni Jesner Awards – should now become a communal priority, if it isn’t already.
Advocates can play their part, whether in shuls or in schools, by identifying local opportunities, and perhaps just going back to basics, explaining what we mean by volunteering. It is, of course, the giving of our time to provide a service and, in so doing, companionship. These are people whose world has shrunk. They’re our future selves. And they deserve our time.
Yoni, whose murder in Israel by a Palestinian terrorist 15 years ago this week shook us all so deeply, led by example. He was known to laugh and engage with anyone from nine-year-olds to 90-year-olds. He was unusual, too – not many 19-year-olds volunteer at the local burial society, preparing the dead for burial – but he was also inspirational. Today, 15 years after his death, he is still inspiring youngsters to give of their time.
Still, we seem to need a new push. There are opportunities. The Chief Rabbi’s barmitzvah programme incorporates volunteering, so what better way to do this than through Jewish Care or the Yoni Jesner Foundation?
The news is worrying, but the future is bright. Our community is known for its giving. This week’s warning tells us we need to start thinking of this less in terms of money, and more in terms of time. We need to look in the mirror and ask how we can give a little of ourselves to others, as Yoni did.
If we did, he’d have no better legacy.