Rabbi Yehuda Dukes
Chaim Schneur Zalman Yehuda Dukes was born and raised in Morristown, N.J., the eldest of nine siblings and the son of Aaron Leib, a statistician, and Hinda, a personal trainer. After he completed grade school in Cheder Lubavitch in nearby Morristown, N.J., he went on to study in Chabad yeshivahs in Brunoy, France; Montreal, Canada; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Brooklyn, N.Y.
He then went on to serve as a student shliach (emissary) in Budapest, Hungary, where the impact he made continues to resonate today, before receiving his rabbinical ordination in Manalapan Township, N.J.
After his marriage to Sarah Spangenthal in Charlotte, N.C., he turned his focus to what would become his calling: JNet, the dynamic chavrusa-creating service that has seen thousands of people across the globe partnered with fellow Jews to study Torah.
A talented Torah reader and cantor, his sweet voice was an integral part of people’s religious experience in Ballantyne, N.C., where he went every year for the High Holidays, as well as in Charlotte and in his hometown of Cedarhurst, N.Y.
A patient teacher, he made time to teach everyone. Middle aged-beginners just starting to learn Hebrew reading in Budapest, fidgety bar mitzvah boys from Long Island wishing to master the intricate skill of Torah reading—everyone knew they could count on him to smilingly coach them along, with good cheer and encouragement.
After contracting the coronavirus in March 2020, Yudi was hospitalized and spent months in a coma. Even as his voice—one familiar to thousands—had been silenced and a ventilator, and later, an ECMO machine worked to keep him alive, he inspired a movement of people doing good deeds in the merit of his recovery.
After valiantly battling the initial infection and the various complications that resulted for months, Yudi eventually recovered enough to return home. His return home after 242 days in the hospital was widely celebrated, but not long afterwards, he returned to the hospital with further complications, ultimately leading to his untimely passing in January 2021.
Remembered as a positive person who always had a smile on his face, Yudi lived and breathed his calling to connect Jews with each other with the study of Torah.
For him, JNet was more than a vehicle to foster Torah study. It was a way to uplift people, to help them grow as Jews and as members of the global Jewish community.
Yudi continued to operate JNet even as he recovered in his hospital bed, working off of his phone and iPad in between blood checks, procedures, visits and therapy sessions.
He was a devoted husband and family man who put his children to bed each night and prioritized their needs and well-being above all else. But no matter how busy he was, he always found time to continue his own study of Torah, never missing a day of Chitas or Rambam, studying the Torah portion with Onkelos’ commentary each week, and completing broad swaths of Talmud and Chassidut, some of it with his own JNet chavrusas, of which he had several. And he never turned down the opportunity to do another person a favor.
Throughout his difficult, nearly year-long ordeal, it was Yudi who more often than not gave hope and consolation to others. Asked in an interview if he had any last words for readers, his response came without pause.
“Yes!” he said from his hospital bed. “I would tell them that the one thing we must do is believe more. Believe in ourselves, believe in our loved ones, believe in our communities and believe in G‑d.”