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September 30, 2016 / 27 Elul, 5776
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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.


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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.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the U.S. correspondent for The Jewish Press. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com


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