After a valiant 10-month battle with COVID and its aftermath, Rabbi Yehuda Dukes, 39, known to thousands as Yudi, returned his soul to his Maker. During his 241-day hospitalization he impacted every single person he came into contact with. He leaves behind his wife, Sarah, who has created an army of people around the world supporting her and who prayed fervently for Yudi’s recovery, and 6 children ranging in age from 3-14.

Here, Sara Esther Crispe shares some of the life lessons she personally gleaned from her interactions with Yudi.

1. If someone impacted you, let them know.

I first met Yudi when he approached me at a large event. He came right up to me with a huge smile on his face and told me he had to thank me. He told me that an article of mine (on a very personal and sensitive subject) had deeply resonated with him and given him the insight and strength he needed to deal with a similar situation in his own life. I remember being astounded at his honesty, transparency and directness. Granted, I had shared something deeply personal, but when I did so, I was facing a computer screen, not a real person. And while theoretically I knew that real people would read it, I had never prepared myself to actually discuss this topic with such detail face to face.

But Yudi didn’t hesitate. He opened up, he shared with me and he thanked me. I was so grateful that he did so. It reminded me that my words can impact others, even if I never find out how. And he showed me the power of acknowledgment, gratitude and taking the time to thank someone, just so that person will know. He didn’t come up to me for his sake, but for mine. And I am so grateful he did, as that is how we first met.

2. If you are worried you hurt someone, reach out.

Years had passed between when Yudi first approached me and us speaking again. We had Here he was, in the ICU, and felt the need to reach out to me and have this phone call a phone conversation a few years back and we disagreed on something. I was not thrilled with the outcome, as I had hoped we could collaborate on a project, but it was clear it was not going to work out. It was definitely an amicable conversation though.

Fast forward a few years, and I learned that Yudi was fighting COVID. Like thousands around the world, I have been thinking of him constantly and have had him and Sarah in my prayers. And then one day, soon after a miraculous nature-defying healing where he was taken off the ventilator after months, and could finally speak again, he texted me. He wanted to know if we could speak. Needless to say, I called the minute I saw the text.

He began by telling me that he knew we had a conversation where we disagreed and he wanted to apologize. I was in shock. Apologize? He had nothing to apologize for, as he was pleasant the first time around. But it bothered him and he was concerned that I may have been upset and he wanted to ensure all was fine. Here he was, in the ICU, and felt the need to reach out to me and have this phone call. To him it was of the utmost importance to apologize to anyone he may have even potentially upset. I will never forget our hour-long call and what he taught me about the power of accountability, apologizing and forgiveness.

3. Never be ashamed to ask for help and to let others know.

When Yudi and I spoke, he began by telling me that reaching out and apologizing to me (and others) was something he had discussed with his therapist who was helping him deal with the emotional challenges that a life-threatening situation creates. When he said it, it was a fact. There was no embarrassment, no shame, no excuses. A fact. Exactly as it should be.

In that one statement he made it clear that he knew he needed support and was receiving it. And he was growing from it and learning and expanding. Most importantly, while he had every legitimate excuse to not do anything (after all, he was in the hospital fighting for his life) he was putting into action the wisdom and guidance he was receiving.

Married to a mental health professional, Yudi knew firsthand that healing needed to be in all areas of his life. He received the best medical care possible, and likewise the best emotional and spiritual care possible. He did, and encouraged others to constantly do positive acts of love and kindness, and he ensured that he worked with a professional to help him address his struggles. And he was open and honest about his process along the way.

While Yudi may not have even been aware he was doing it, he was breaking the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues and was the greatest example of the importance of asking for support when needed.

Rabbi Yehuda Dukes
Rabbi Yehuda Dukes

4. Give credit where credit is due.

I posted a lot about Yudi, his journey and battle with COVID, and the remarkable updates from his wife, Sarah (I can write a whole different piece on life lessons from her!). One time I received a beautiful message from a woman telling me a story of how Yudi impacted her son’s life. What was even more astounding was that Yudi heard about this and reached out to her son to thank him for what he was doing in the merit of his recovery. (Again, Life Lesson #1 from Yudi). I sent Yudi a WhatsApp message to share what the mother had told me, and he responded with a voice message which I will forever cherish. With difficulty speaking and pausing to breathe, Yudi explained how the credit is due to his wife for asking him if he wanted to reach out to the boy. While he was happy to do so, he immediately recognized and wanted me to know that the idea of doing so came from Sarah. He added that while he is willing to take the credit for what he said to the boy, his wife deserves all the credit for the fact that he made the call in the first place.

Now, it sounds simple, but this is so profound. It’s not like it makes the biggest difference if it was his idea or Sarah’s idea to call. But he took the time and effort (and it was a real effort) to clarify so that I should know she was a huge part of what he was doing and accomplishing (something we already all knew, but he wanted to state it).

This was once again a reminder that if you owe someone gratitude, recognition or an apology…do not hesitate. Go to the trouble of reaching out and saying it. Always.

5. Recognize that everything and everyone is a learning opportunity.

For thousands around the world, Yudi was a constant source of inspiration and hope. And yet, Yudi himself felt that each and every person he encountered was an opportunity for him to learn and grow.

He told me a story that happened one day in his hospital room. You can Without missing a beat, the janitor responded, “You’re not lucky, you are blessed.” imagine that in the course of a day he had dozens of doctors, nurses, and hospital staff who would enter. For many months, he was not conscious during their visits and was therefore unable to interact with them or thank them for what they were doing. So once he could, he made sure to chat with every person who came through.

One day there was a janitor who was cleaning and sanitizing his room. As he was about to leave, the man stopped to admire a picture of Yudi with his wife and six children. The man remarked that Yudi had a beautiful family, to which Yudi responded, “Yes, I am a very lucky man.” Without missing a beat, the janitor responded, “You’re not lucky, you are blessed.”

Yudi immediately recognized the power and truth of this statement, and the lesson it was teaching him. It wasn’t luck that he was ever experiencing, or happenstance, but a blessing. And he recognized that this very encounter with this janitor, and the wisdom the janitor shared, was likewise a blessing.

Yudi took it a step further by sharing it with me and others, so that the message could be heard and integrated by as many as possible.

6. Know your worth.

Yudi didn’t ask to be a role model. He didn’t ask to become a well-known figure of resilience and faith. And it would have been completely understandable if he shied away from the public eye and just focused on his healing. But he didn’t. He knew that if he found himself in a situation of impact, it was because he was intended to impact.

He may not have sought out the opportunity, and he most certainly didn’t ask for his health battle, but you can be sure he was going to utilize it. He knew he was given a platform to make change and transform lives, and he was going to do all he could with that. Yudi lived with the notion that his situation wasn’t happening to him but for him.

He was as blown away by the impact his life and situation was having on people, as people were by him. While he was the one that seemingly needed our support, help and inspiration, to the greatest extent it was actually Yudi and his family providing that to everyone else. Yudi embodied the concept that the truest way to give is to receive, and the truest way to receive is through giving.

Throughout his ordeal, Dukes' family was an pillar of support and love.
Throughout his ordeal, Dukes' family was an pillar of support and love.

7. Nothing stands in the way of will.

For anyone who followed Yudi’s health journey, it was astounding on a multitude of levels. As Sarah posted throughout his 10-month battle, he endured and fought through endless life-threatening situations. Without question, he was a living miracle beyond the scope of explanation from a medical perspective. Yudi kept overcoming the odds, time and time again. So much so that any prognosis was irrelevant, as he had been on the brink of death so many times, only to defy the laws of nature. Yudi and Sarah expected miracles. And they received miracles.

They knew that each and every challenge served a purpose, even the ones (especially the ones) they couldn’t begin to understand. When Yudi had to return to the hospital after his brief discharge, Sarah noted that clearly there was more spiritual work that he needed to accomplish there. Every single act, every step of the way, was filled with meaning and purpose. Nothing was for waste as Yudi learned from every interaction (Lesson #5) and knew that he was accomplishing something he needed or someone else needed at all times (Lesson #6). As Sarah wrote in a post this past August, Yudi told her: “Every experience I have been having, no matter how painful or negative it seems, is there to bring out the best in me and help me grow to be a better person. This trauma has been an opportunity for discovery.”

And even when his physical life ended, to the devastation of so many around the world, Sarah put the tragic news as follows: “Baruch Dayan haemes. Blessed is the true Judge. Yudi is safe. He is protected. You have carried him straight to the highest heights. We will see you again, Yudi. We love you.”

To assist the Dukes family visit the Dukes Family Fund here.