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It is a beautiful day here in Sarasota. Sunshine, light breeze, a few fluffy white clouds. My dog is dozing at my feet and I’m watching a pair of ducks float serenely by in the small pond behind my home.

It is difficult to imagine what today is like for the people of Ukraine. I am preparing for Shabbat in the calm and peace of my home, untouched by war. I have never lived through the dark times they are experiencing. My determination and resolve have never been tested, my life never threatened, my family never torn apart by war.

I am horrified and frightened, both for them and, if I am being honest, for myself too. Like the pandemic, this war was unexpected. Except, like the pandemic, there were voices that predicted it would come, sooner or later. And like the pandemic, it could easily spill over into the rest of the world.

I am bolstered by the response of the world’s Jewish community, and by my own community’s desire to help. Like so many others, I sent an email to my congregation with suggestions of organizations that are at work on the ground in Eastern Europe – the United Jewish Federations, HIAS, the Joint Distribution Committee. They gave willingly and generously.

With so much dark news coming out of the region, it was both startling and delightful to read David Brooks as he wrote admiringly of the Ukrainian people in the New York Times. He wrote, “…the Ukrainians have shown us how the right kind of patriotism is ennobling, a source of meaning and a reason to risk life. They’ve shown us that the love of a particular place, their own land and people, warts and all, can be part and parcel of a love for universal ideals, like democracy, liberalism and freedom.”

This has long been the message of the Jewish people. It is the message that Israeli Jews have been sending for nearly 75 years. It is a message of courage and resolve, especially in light of a world-view that often sees Jewish self-preservation as aggression.

I am proud of the Ukrainian people, Jew and non-Jew alike. And I am proud of Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The Ukrainian president has emerged as a true leader, a man who understands his people and identifies with them. A man who refused the United States’ offer of escape by saying that he needed ammunition, “not a ride.” A man who told other politicians to post pictures of their own children in their offices, not his portrait. A man who has a law degree and won Dancing With The Stars. A man who is Jewish in the stereotypical mode of a modern Eastern European — not religious, but rather coming from a strong sense of community and destiny.

Kyiv is 6,354 miles from Sarasota. But today, despite my love for my own hometown, that is where my heart lies.

Tonight on Shabbat Jews around the world will pray for peace. I pray that our words rise and merge together as a blanket of comfort for our Ukrainain brethren. And when we are done praying, we must act, doing everything in our power to stand up to tyranny and tyrants, whenever they arise.

Ukraine Flag with Sunflower Pattern is a piece of digital artwork by Iris Richardson which was uploaded on February 28th, 2022.