web analytics
October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

My Pesach Stint In Federal Prison


Last year I spent part of Pesach in the oddest of places.

I had been in the office of Kesher Israel Congregation of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania late one afternoon before Pesach when the phone rang. It was a chaplain (not Jewish) from Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. They had just received some new Jewish prisoners and were scrambling to meet their Pesach needs.

I was happy to help. I referred them to a website featuring a line of kosher for Pesach travel meals. While these meals were obviously intended for families on the go, they could also help our brothers behind bars. The relief I had provided him quickly disappeared when he exclaimed, “Oh my God, what are we going to do about matzah?” I told him of a local supermarket that carried about every type of matzah one could imagine.

I asked him why he was calling Kesher Israel; he said it was the closest Orthodox synagogue to Lewisburg he could find. I then asked if he had a rabbi planning to see the Jewish inmates over Pesach. He told me that while a rabbi visited once a month from Wilkes-Barre, no one was scheduled to stop in during Pesach. He was thrilled when I volunteered to come for a visit. After a lot of paper work, I was all set.

I wanted to make the trip to Lewisburg for two reasons: I was curious and I imagined a bunch of depressed Jewish men feeling miserable about being away from loved ones during Pesach. I figured they would probably appreciate a little support at this time of year.

With my father keeping me company, I headed off for a beautiful hour-long drive to be the guest chaplain at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary (also known as The Big House).

As my father was not allowed to enter, he drove to a nearby park where he read, did some work, and enjoyed delicious Seder leftovers my wife had packed for him.

I was surprised by Lewisburg. I had assumed it would be a Club Fed-type place for white collar criminals. Well, they have a satellite camp that fits that bill, but Lewisburg itself is a maximum security prison/fortress – guard towers and all.

The chaplain met me and we went through several security layers until we were in the chapel. The place was very well kept, and the architecture reminded me of a preppy boarding school – aside from the bars and metal detectors.

The guards at the front desk took my picture and stamped my hand with an ultraviolet symbol. I naively asked what that was for. I was told it was to verify that it was in fact me who would be exiting and not an inmate of my height, weight, and look – an inmate who may have tied me up after stealing my shirt, jacket and tie. Even if he looked like my picture, he wouldn’t be allowed to exit without the ultraviolet hand stamp. I made a mental note not to wash my hands with soap while I was in there.

After spending some time with two Jewish inmates in the chapel of the prison’s maximum security wing, the chaplain and I left to visit the nearby minimum security satellite camp. It felt very good to be on the outside again. (Thank God, the ultraviolet stamp held fast.)

The contrast between the two places was striking. There was a far greater degree of freedom in the camp than in the prison. The inmates all knew, however, that if they stepped out of line, it would be back to lockdown in The Big House.

The camp had given the Jewish group (nearly a dozen men) a small unused cafeteria for Pesach. The counters were covered with aluminum foil, boxes of matzah, Pesach food, and Haggadahs. I was shocked: it looked just like any yeshiva kitchen prepared for Pesach.

As we entered, the prison employee who had escorted me asked the group if he could join us at the table with his lunch. The prisoners asked to inspect his bag first. Sure enough, it contained food that was not kosher for Pesach. The inmates set up a chair in the corner and asked the prison employee to sit there rather than joining us at the table. He politely complied. (You can’t make this stuff up!)

About the Author: Kesher Israel Congregation’s Rabbi Akiva Males can be reached at rabbimales@yahoo.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “My Pesach Stint In Federal Prison”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L) meets with Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon in Halifax, Canada on November 22, 2013.
Ya’alon Scraps Purchase of US Aircraft
Latest Indepth Stories
Which glass has the poison?

The White House wanted to defame Netanyahu, undermine his reputation, impugn him & his policies

Adolf Hitler and the representative of the Palestinian Arabs, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, December, 1941.

Palestinian anti-Semitism in 2014 is more extreme and mainstream than German A/S in the 1930s.

Sheldon Silver

Woven deeply through it all is the Jewish obligation to fight injustice.

Cravatts-Richard--new

Only in the inverted world of academia would Jewish professors denounce the AMCHA Initiative report.

Many poskim were and are adamant about the responsibility of every individual to vote.

Individuals who may have been abused are the “clients” in need and receiving care and protection.

An accomplished Torah scholar and ardent adherent of Bobov chassidus, he was renowned for his self-effacing dedication and skills as an international lawyer and law professor

The fact that the United States government after World War II sought to take advantage of the expertise of German scientists, even those known to have contributed to the Nazi war effort, is well known and largely accepted as having been necessary for America’s national defense. (Wernher von Braun is perhaps the most famous and […]

The New York State comptroller manages the state’s $180.7 billion pension fund, audits the spending practices of all state agencies and local governments, oversees the New York State and Local Retirement System, reviews the New York State and City budgets, and approves billions in State contracts and spending.

Rabinovich is the author of several popular books on Israel’s wars, including The Battle for Jerusalem, The Yom Kippur War, and The Boats of Cherbourg.

To say he was beloved because of the way he loved his students does not sufficiently capture the reality.

The birth I speak about is to give birth to ourselves, to our full potential.

The extreme hypocrisy, contempt & vulgarity of the attacks indicate more than a policy disagreement

More Articles from Rabbi Akiva Males
Statue of Brig. Gen. John Gibbon

The power of “positive campaigning;” Nothing quenches your soul’s thirst like Torah.

Males-031414

At the core of traditional Judaism is the belief that our world has a Creator. This Creator knows all that goes on in our world, and remains actively involved in all of its events – no matter how insignificant some of those events might seem.

In a short span of time our shul raised and distributed thousands of dollars for relief organizations.

In 2007 my parents decided it was time to downsize and sell their home of more than thirty years. To help them pack up and move into their new apartment, I returned to Cleveland to offer my assistance.

Two recent experiences served to drive home the point to me that – with apologies to the popular Disney musical boat ride “It’s a Small World” – it really is a small Jewish world.

“Rabbi, is there any religious requirement for Jewish men to wear mezuzahs around their necks?”

“Rabbi, if you yourself are clean-shaven, why does this inmate claim his Jewish religion prohibits him from using a razor on his face?”

We are all aware of the terrible divisions among Israel’s Jewish population. My friends and colleagues in Israel tell me they cannot remember a time in recent years where so much fragmentation existed. All this when the external threats facing Israel grow greater by the day.

No matter our stage in life, one is seldom comfortable feeling left out. Unfortunately, many American Jews experience exactly that feeling each year as Christmas approaches. The term “December Dilemma” is used to describe the tension many Jews feel sitting on the sidelines, unable to fully enjoy or participate in the distinctly Christian themes and activities occurring all around.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/my-pesach-stint-in-federal-prison/2009/04/14/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: