This piece is a follow-up to a column I wrote on June 21 involving a man incarcerated in a Florida prison.
It is said there is a pintele yid, a divine spark, linking every Jew to the Creator. Sometimes that spark can be a slight flicker, a mere hint of light, but it is never extinguished.
A body can be locked up. The soul can still soar. Life-changing moments can happen in the most unexpected circumstances.
The Aleph Institute supports Jews in two very diverse areas of life. Aleph serves Jews in the military. It also serves Jews who are in prison. Several years ago Rabbi Menachem Katz, Aleph’s director of Prison and Military Outreach, was ministering to Jewish inmates in Blackwater Correctional Facility in Milton, Florida. His words were overheard by a nearby prisoner, Pablo Manuel Diaz.
Diaz asked the rabbi a question. Rabbi Katz wondered why Diaz was interested. Diaz replied that his maternal grandmother had confided to him that she was Jewish. There are pivotal times in life. This was one of them. Katz took out his tefillin. A journey had begun.
Pablo Diaz has had rough times. He is serving a life sentence in prison for very serious crimes. He decided he wanted to make a change.
Diaz began to pray and put on tefillin. He explored his heritage. He read the Jewish-themed magazine Aleph Institute distributes to prisoners. He was riveted by an ad he saw in the pages of the publication.
The ad was from Brit Yosef Yitzchak, a group dedicated to providing circumcision to all Jewish males, of any age, free of charge. The procedure is performed by experienced mohels in a medically correct setting. The motto of the organization is “It’s Never too Late.”
Diaz petitioned the Florida Department of Corrections to allow him to undergo the procedure. His appeal was turned down. Students and professors from Stanford Law School helped with the case. Diaz eventually was given permission.
Three weeks ago, Pablo Manuel Diaz became an official “member of the tribe.” The brit took place in the prison infirmary. Mohel Rabbi Aryeh Weiss and sandak Rabbi Aryeh Wuench, BYY volunteer and development director, were joined by the facility’s staff nurse.
There were tears of joy, singing and dancing. Diaz recited the Shema Yisrael. The participants sipped grape juice. “This was an incredible example of achdut by the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Wuench. “The mohel is Satmar. I’m Lubavitch. Jews from every walk of life were involved in working on the case.”
Brit Yosef Yitzchak has performed over 42,000 circumcisions throughout the world. There are international headquarters in Israel, Russia and the Ukraine. The brit is traditionally performed on the eighth day of a baby boy’s life. There are many reasons and many circumstances, however, that can interfere with the ceremony taking place in a timely fashion.
The vast majority of men BYY accommodates are from the former Soviet Union. There are hundreds of thousands of Jews in this category. “This situation is unique to our generation,” said Wuench. “We have to step up to this challenge. The need is great.”
For further information or to contribute, contact Aryeh Wuench at 305-992-7701 or the toll free at 1-877-BRIT MILAH.Shelley Benveniste
About the Author: Shelley Benveniste is South Florida editor of The Jewish Press.
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