Remembering Yolanda Clark

If you never had a chance to know Yolanda Clark, I’m sorry. She was so very well worth knowing.
Yolanda passed away recently at 51, such a young age today. But her body had long been weakened by diabetes and kidney disease. The first cost her a leg; the second shortened her life.
At her memorial service, three rabbis and a cantor sang her praises. Afterward, she was buried in the cemetery of Temple Emanu-El, her longtime house of prayer and learning. The crowd that came to say farewell and honor her memory included many members of Dallas Section, National Council of Jewish Women, with whom she had worked so diligently to make our world a better place.
NCJW’s annual birthday luncheon was held this year Jan. 26. I last saw Yolanda in mid-December, and she told me she would be there. But she was gone by then, five days too soon.
She and I rehabbed together last spring, at The Legacy Preston Hollow. I was recuperating from hip surgery; she had had a leg amputated and was being readied for her prosthesis. Through it all, she continued with dialysis. And she continued to smile. She never stopped smiling. Yolanda always smiled.
We were there together during Passover, taking part in The Legacy’s Seder. During the week following, several visiting friends brought me kosher-for-Pesach treats. On those evenings, I wheeled myself to her room to share them with her, and just to chat. We were both so glad to be in a Jewish facility for the holiday.
By Hanukkah, I needed only a cane when I visited Yolanda in her new apartment. She had her artificial leg and was doing well with it, but she asked me for a favor. The apartment was on the upper floor of a two-story building with no elevator: Would I mind going back downstairs bring up her mail? She could do it by herself, but it wasn’t easy, so since I was there …
With a simple question, Yolanda acknowledged that even though I was handicapped myself, I could still help her; I could give her the gift of assistance. But she had given me even more: the gift of trust. Not just trusting me with her mailbox key, but validating my own recovery with her request, which expressed belief in my ability, although compromised, to do for others as well as for myself. It was a precious, inspiring moment I’ll never forget.
If you didn’t know Yolanda Clark, I’m sure you didn’t know her most defining feature: She was black. She could never fade into the background at Temple, or during NCJW events, or whenever she took part in her many volunteer activities under Jewish auspices. But she always wore both her very dark skin and her ever-present kippah with public pride.
A Jew by choice for almost two decades, she handled with remarkable grace the often startled reactions of both blacks and whites when they learned of her religious preference and devotion to it.
At Dallas NCJW’s birthday luncheon two years ago, Yolanda was given the Section’s “Make a Difference” award in recognition of all the good she had done for others through her affiliation with the organization she loved. At the event were many of Yolanda’s family and friends, all of whom honored and respected the religious path she had chosen that was so different from their own.
And now, she’s gone. Diabetes and renal failure took her leg and her life. But to the very end, nothing took the smile off her face.
My Boubby the Philosopher asked a favor at the end of her life: “Please,” she said, “no eulogy. If people don’t know me by now, it’s too late!”
And so it is for those of you who never had the chance to know Yolanda Clark, a true “Woman of Valor,” whose memory is to be forever cherished. Too late now. I’m truly sorry.

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