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Ursula Wagner

Ursula Wagner wasn’t sure if she was in the right place on her first day as an Avodah Justice Fellow, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that she was exactly where she belonged.

Ursula is a social worker who works with homeless participants in a primary care clinic at Heartland Alliance, and proudly serves as Chair of Heartland’s union, United Human Services Workers. When she applied to the program, Ursula knew that she was Jewish, that she worked in social services, and that she was looking for community. Community is exactly what she found.

While she hasn’t always felt welcome in Jewish spaces, it was different in the Fellowship, where she connected with Jewish social justice professionals from such diverse backgrounds. “It was new to me seeing that we all had these wildly different Jewish stories, but no one ever questioned our right to be there.” And being exposed to traditional Jewish social justice texts reactivated her love for literary analysis, one of the many doors opened to her.

Some of our Justice Fellows join the program to deepen their knowledge of social justice work, but with Ursula, it was the other way around. She came in with a strong grounding in her work, but was seeking to deepen her Jewish identity as someone committed to social change. The experience ultimately brought these two pieces of herself together: “I don’t just have to be a social worker who is Jewish; I can be a Jewish social worker.”

By participating in the Justice Fellowship, Ursula found a deeper connection with her Jewish identity, and sees how it can support her day-to-day work. “Now I’m a part of a community of people who do this,” she says. “They hold me accountable and push me to be stronger.”