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A Jew Grows in Prison

There is no doubt that the David Arenberg who will emerge from prison in approximately five months is a different, a better and a more spiritual human being than the one who went in more than 12 years ago. But the losses and the pain have been profound.

David Arenberg lost many things during his nearly 12 years in prison, but he found a connection to Judaism.

David Arenberg lost many things during his nearly 12 years in prison, but he found a connection to Judaism.
Photo Credit: Lori Lowenthal Marcus

Having spent all this time in prison, Arenberg knows he is an expert about these matters.  Interestingly, his career before his life took a downward spiral had a similar pattern.

After Arenberg graduated from the University of Chicago in 1980, he moved to the lower East Side of New York City.  He was living amongst the bohemians and the radicals, in slum dwellings, and quickly became involved in tenant strikes and activism.  Part of that life style included doing drugs, it was simply part of the social experience.

Arenberg was good at what he did, but over time, as the ’80s passed into the ’90s, the movement grew smaller and smaller.  Arenberg was frustrated and as his successes became fewer, his drug use increased. Eventually there was a split in his movement, someone else took the lead, and Arenberg was adrift.  As his work became less fulfilling and his drug habit grew more demanding, short cuts were taken, trusts were betrayed, and money was stolen. Accustomed to being a neighborhood hero, Arenberg found it unbearable to cope with his fall from grace.

Arenberg’s brother tried to help him by setting him up to help out in his business, and Arenberg’s flame was briefly rekindled.  He was called on to help out in the labor movement in the southwest, but the geography and the politics of the region felt wrong.  Eventually Arenberg began using the skills he had honed to help those in poverty, to engage in increasingly sophisticated financial fraud.  What had been good became all bad.

And then it all crashed.

A NEW BEGINNING

In late May, 2013, Arenberg is looking forward to another new beginning.  Once he leaves Kingman Prison in November he will be going to a halfway house in Scottsdale, Arizona. He hopes there is a Jewish community there in which he can become involved.  Right now he is reading the Jewish Study Bible, put out by the Jewish Publishing Society.

Because he is nearing the end of his prison term, Arenberg is currently in a minimum security prison, where he says there is a small group of intellectuals, with whom he is creating a lecture series.  Arenberg intends to have his sessions focus on the Torah.  He wants to remain connected to Judaism, but feels most comfortable with the mystical and the historical aspects of the religion. He loves the multi-layered meanings and the deep discoveries rooted in the texts.

David Arenberg is on the cusp of a renewed life. Given all he has lost, his relatively new-found connection to Judaism is a gift he gave himself, one that should help sustain him going forward.

Research conducted for this story revealed what a true kiddush haShem Rabbi Michel was.  His story is also worth reading.  See it here.

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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10 Responses to “A Jew Grows in Prison”

  1. Carl ToersBijns says:

    I think this is an exaggerated version of racism against Jews inside SW prisons. In my 25 years of prison experience Kosher inmates have not trouble eating among others as long as they follow the race card in seating, association, pecking order and hierarchy of power and control. Google me and you will see I have SW prison experience and when I read this I found it odd and somewhat suspicious that it was elevated to the degree it was when in fact, this is not a major issue unless the matter is brought to the forefront and draws heat on a particular group or race. Then it becomes political and bad things happen.

  2. Carl ToersBijns says:

    I am sorry but I find the dynamics in this man's prison adjustment to be red flags all over and suspect he may have become a problematic inmate to the admin and brought the heat on himself through his own actions. Call me naïve but there is more to the story than is being told here. Maybe the reporter should have done a balance check and see how much truth was told and how much was fabricated, manipulated and exaggerated. In the thousands of Jewish offenders I dealt with, this story just doesn't fit the pattern of my experience and I suspect many other administrators in the SW.

  3. Lori Lowenthal Marcus says:

    sorry you think that. I did do research and found Arenberg's story quite believable. For example: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4991738 But in any event, this article focuses on Arenberg's transformation into a self-identified Jew, and I don't understand why you think your own experience has any relevance.

  4. Lori Lowenthal Marcus says:

    sorry you think that. I did do research and found Arenberg's story quite believable. For example: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4991738 But in any event, this article focuses on Arenberg's transformation into a self-identified Jew, and I don't understand why you think your own experience has any relevance.

  5. Lori Lowenthal Marcus says:

    sorry you think that. I did do research and found Arenberg's story quite believable. For example: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4991738 But in any event, this article focuses on Arenberg's transformation into a self-identified Jew, and I don't understand why you think your own experience has any relevance.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Why are Whites routinely called "White supremacists?" Why didn't you say "Black supremacists," or "Asian supremacists?" Or better still you should have just dropped the word 'supremacist.'

  7. Anonymous says:

    Another point I would say is being in jail is "no holds barred" situation. Anyone being in jail is bad! Not just Jews!

  8. I don't often read human interest stories, because they tend not to be particularly deep, and are therefore rarely actually interesting. But this was truly fascinating — a very thoughtful portrait of an actual human being, in all his monstrosity, and failure, and all his glory. Thank you.

    And thank you for the link to the story of Rabbi Michel. You are surely right — what a Kiddush HaShem.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I really don't like how one of my comments was deleted. There seems to be a freedom of speech problem with the Jewish Press. What I said was perfectly reasonable. It's sad and frustrating when you tell people why certain things happen and you know you are right but the freedom of speech censors come in! Even Stormfront allows Jews to tell their views on that webpage! I remember even on Jerusalem Post or Haaretz they have a lot of free speech on there. So thanks to those newspapers!

  10. Wow David gave you quite the snow job on the writer of this article than he did on the dope dealers he used to cop from. David has not been in prison for over 13 years. He did not spend 3.5 years continuously in the county jail. I, as his ex-wife, can tell you that I did not divorce him after his "conviction and sentencing"! The problem was that David never cleaved to his wife and rather stayed married to crack-cocaine so that when it came time to decide whether to stand with the wife or to side with his brother, David chose his brother. Research your facts! I am a devout believer and when David was given a choice to serve God or serve time, he chose to serve time. I do hope that David is changed. He should embrace his relationship with God and not overthink or over intellectualize it, as he does most everything he allows to pass through his reasoning. David should check out azshabbat.org and visit the congregation that is headed by Rabbi Jack Zimmerman in Scottsdale, AZ upon his release. He would find a good person to call in times of temptation and trouble.

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