Remembering Our JWRP Sister: Natalie Sara Yudkovskie
One of my favorite definitions of courage comes from the American writer, Ambrose Redmoon. He writes, “Courage is not the absence of fear. Rather, it is the determination that something else is more important than our fear.”
Courage, like commitment, is an action word. It is a reaction to fear and to doubt. It is a decision to behave according to a higher vision instead of simply reacting to one’s feelings. And it was modeled by my dear friend, Natalie Sara Yudkovskie.
I met Natalie on a MOMentum Trip to Israel during the summer of 2014. She was part of a group of Israeli women who suffered from metastatic breast cancer. An Israeli woman born in Russia, Natalie was feisty, opinionated, passionate, brilliant, and strong. We bonded almost instantly (all of we JWRP sisters know how quickly and easily that happens on our trips). During those eight days, we shared our often convergent views and opinions, our stories and perspectives.
It was a summer of war in Israel. Many of us were ambivalent about traveling to Israel in the first place. We came in solidarity with our Israeli sisters and brothers, and we felt like brave souls for coming. But, what I learned from Natalie — and what we all learned from this extraordinary group of women — quickly redefined the meaning of war. Each of us experienced an internal war — a battle between comfort and elevation, a battle between good and evil, and a battle for life itself.
In the Torah, G-d says the following to us:
"This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses [that I have warned] you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live."
Natalie decided to live. She understood that choosing life did not simply mean choosing the act of physically living. It means living on all cylinders as a body and a soul working in tandem to reach our potential.
She had been diagnosed a year prior at the age of 36, and she was fighting for life with an unparalleled ferocity. Kayla Frankel, the Trip Director, and I decided to film Natalie, sharing her life affirming lesson with all of us. Here is what she said:
“My name is Natalie and I am 37 years old. A year ago, I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, and I have been struggling for about a year with this. I am struggling with how I can continue living, why should I live? But I have realized that I am not afraid of dying; I am afraid of not living. Because, guess what? All of us are dying. I just know when. And this is an incredible opportunity to ask questions that I never dared to ask, to do things that I never dared to do. And just be happy. Just start living. Stop waiting for something, start depending on someone. Just do it. Just go out there and live your life, ask questions, live and laugh. Cry. Say no to people. Say yes to opportunities. Take chances. So, be brave. Yes. I am saying, yes. Don’t give up. Live your life.”
Last winter, Natalie came to Toronto to stay with me and my family for a month. Every single morning, she came to class with me to learn. She made new friends. Inspired people. Brought her unique brand of self to my community.
And then, last summer, upon arriving in Israel to lead a summer mission, I came a few days early to spend Shabbat and the weekend with her family in Bat Yam. Within an hour of arriving, my back gave out in a significant way. So instead of caring for her, she and her parents literally nursed me back to health. Bought kosher food to feed me. Administered medication. Took me to the bathroom. Loved me back to mobility.
Later, Natalie told me that nursing me was the greatest gift she could have received because while doing so, she was no longer the patient but the caregiver. And that gave her energy, joy, and life force. Sometimes I think that G-d knocked me out for that exact reason. How often do we treat cancer patients as though they no longer have anything to contribute and are only there to receive our assistance? We can learn so much from everyone — especially those whose perspectives have been brought into clear relief by such circumstances.
Natalie Sara Yudkovskie was brave and courageous according to the famous line in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers):
״Ben Zoma says: Who is brave? The one who subdues his negative inclination.״
Natalie won her internal war and exhibited bravery and courage in facing head on each and every one of her “issues and inclinations” with complete honesty. May her soul be elevated and may she advocate for us all from on high. May we follow her wisdom. May we live courageously in her merit.
This article was written by Adrienne Gold Davis, JWRP Israel