Echoes of Elul Day 24: Pursuing Justice with a Whole Heart

By Donna Wolffe

Just last month, August 2022, I joined a HIAS Welcome Circle to assist in resettling Ukrainian refugees. It was a sea change for me, as I’d been thinking about committing to joining such a project for over a year! So, why now was I able to pick up the phone and tell someone, “This is Donna Wolffe, and I want to join a Welcome Circle.”

There’s no question that I’ve been a cheerleader for social justice for years, but this is almost the first time I’ve put it into action. At Torah study I was asked how I overcame the inertia that prevents a lot of us from moving from thought to action in our lives.

My spiritual program asks me to first look inward to my Higher Power– the call to service was honest, but so was my fear of commitment, my lack of confidence and my lack of personal connection. I think these attitudes held me in inertia during the Afghan refugee outreach.

Then, in February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine and the whole world responded. President Zelensky inspired us all with his passionate oratory and Jewish soul. My favorite Israeli poetry teacher (living in Jaffa) loaned her apartment in Budapest to a family of refugees from Kiev, who were distant relatives. The images on TV were heartbreaking. I became whole-hearted in support of responding to their plight; lack of commitment vanished.

Was there a place for me in this effort? I feared that I was too diffuse, out of touch with current skills needed to resettle refugees. And I lacked personal “deep pockets.” So, my lack of confidence kept me watching from the outside for months, after learning that Orange County did have a HIAS Welcome Circle program for Ukrainian refugees.

Then, serendipity happened, when I met and felt a connection with some leaders in the Orange County HIAS program. In early August, I put my toe in the water and started asking questions about what is entailed and how I could get more information. Immediately, I was invited to well-designed webinars and websites and I learned about the process. The leaders stayed in touch with me. With all that encouragement, I gained confidence and started to feel a personal connection to Welcome Circles. Within a few days I made that phone call and said, “I am all in.”

A core group of four or five soon expanded to a complete Welcome Circle of nine dedicated members. Amazingly, we are diverse in age, backgrounds, and lifestyles. But, that commitment has manifested 100%, as we each selected areas where we would be the lead person. We’ve been assigned a wonderful young family of four and soon will tackle all the areas of life that a Welcome Circle encompasses. Our Friends of Ukrainian Newcomers (FUN) circle  has already spent hours of time with our new family, as we provide resources to assist them, as they settle into life in Orange County.

For me, acceptance came after I first faced my own inner fears. Then with confidence in myself, I found the courage to commit, with a whole heart, to a social action program that will make a difference in people’s lives.

With deep gratitude, Donna

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