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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Aleph Institute’

Women behind Bars Get Three Days of Jewish Studies

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

For Jews in prison, incarceration can keep them isolated from their family and their faith. But thanks to the Aleph Institute, a Florida-based nonprofit, they and their loved ones receive some much-needed help from an organization that has been providing assistance for more than three decades.

In fact, the institute’s Yeshiva in Prison program recently expanded to include a visit for the first time to female prisoners, said Rabbi Aaron Lipskar, executive director of the institute.

The program spans three days of interactive classroom-style work. Yeshiva volunteers work with inmates in small groups or on a one-on-one basis to provide introspection using the Torah. Inmates learn how to live as a Jew despite their surroundings.

The program covers many topics, including Jewish law, ethics, explanatory prayer services, kosher dietary laws, faith and reason, and Kabbalah. Daily afternoon lectures focus on the idea of personal responsibility, self-control and the skills for accepting authority.

The idea is to help channel the inmate’s energies in a positive manner, which could improve a sense of personal responsibility, explained the rabbi.

THREE-DAY PROGRAM FOR WOMEN

Earlier this month, program volunteers Rebbetzin Chanie Lipskar, Judy Adouth, Leah Lipskar and Rochel Katz went to Coleman Federal Prison Camp near Orlando, Fla., for their first time teaching female inmates.

The three-day sessions included a full-day program—8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.—of interactive classroom-style learning. The volunteers also divided the women into smaller focus groups, each concentrating on a prepared course subject by the teacher.

Katz said of the experience: “I’ve gained as much as the inmates have, if not more.”

She alluded to preconceptions regarding inmates and prison culture in general, and noted that they can often be misguided. “Some of the women were doctors, and lawyers—educated women with tears running down their faces in gratitude for myself and my colleagues taking the time to spend the day with them,” she said.

Chaplain Yolanda Garcia works there, and called the Yeshiva program “awesome.”

“I think the women felt a sense of womanhood being around Jewish female representatives,” she said. “I actually received a ‘thank you’ card from them. It taught them how to get along with each other and pray with each other.”

Garcia welcomed the opportunity for the program to return to the prison camp. Rabbi Lipskar responded that the group will absolutely come back to female prisons.

WORK THAT TOUCHES THOUSANDS

The Aleph Institute was founded 32 years ago by Lipskar’s uncle, Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, at the request of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. The organization says it regularly services more than 4,000 Jewish inmates and nearly 6,000 of their family members. The institute has 35 employees, including a dozen rabbinical positions and many volunteers.

“From a personal perspective,” said Lipskar, “it’s very rewarding to make a tangible impact in someone’s life at very challenging times. It certainly is very special.”

Beyond the Yeshiva program, the institute’s prison work encompasses a range of activities at the federal, state and local levels.

During the High Holy days, for example, it helps conduct more than 300 services in prison. Much of Aleph’s inmate advocacy work is related to basic issues, Lipskar said, such as inmate placement, medical concerns and what materials can be contained in a religious library.

The foundation does not provide lawyers or legal advice, but it can be involved in the legal process, he said, such as creating alternative programs for offenders. If a medical professional is found guilty of prescription fraud, for instance, Lipskar said the institute could suggest he work a certain number of hours at a rehab center, perhaps cleaning bed pans, to appreciate the damage he has done.

“We try to help people through the entire process, and to maintain familial relations,” said the rabbi.

To that end, the institute has a gift program, sending birthday or Chanukah presents to children in the name of the inmate. There’s even a pen-pal program to write to Jewish inmates, both of which add moral support to their prison stays.

In addition to its prison-related efforts, the institute has been helping Jews in the military for 20 years now.

It works with close to 5,000 Jewish service members and their families through Aleph Operation Enduring Traditions. That support could take the form of advocating for the rights of Jews, providing training to military chaplains, sending food packages to personnel and even distributing camouflaged pocket-size Torahs.

Jewish Soldiers Find Spiritual Home At Fort Jackson, S.C.

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

When Rabbi Henry Soussan went through training at Fort Jackson in 2002, area Jewish options were limited, and being able to participate in Jewish holiday celebrations was tough. Nearly 10 years later, the instructor at the Columbia, South Carolina installation’s chaplain school is proud of the Chabad-Lubavitch-run Aleph House, which gives civilians and soldiers a Jewish base while they’re away from home.

During the 10 to 12 weeks of basic training at Fort Jackson – which is also home to the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force chaplaincy training programs – soldiers are not expected to leave the base, but in a first for Fort Jackson, dozens of trainees got to spend the High Holidays at the Aleph House.

“That’s quite a change,” said Soussan, who worked together with Fort Jackson’s chaplain and commanding general to make their attendance possible.

One trainee was even granted permission to stay overnight with Rabbi Heshy Epstein, co-director of Chabad of South Carolina, so he wouldn’t have to drive on Yom Kippur.

“I never heard of that before,” remarked Soussan.

Operated jointly by Chabad of South Carolina and the Aleph Institute, a Bal Harbour, Fla.-based organization that serves Jewish military personnel and prisoners, the Aleph House provides Jewish soldiers at Fort Jackson an array of services, including graduation ceremonies for trainees completing basic training or chaplaincy school.

“We have had people come from all over America,” many of whom were not particularly close to their home Jewish communities, said Soussan. “But because they had this celebration at the Aleph House, they were able to reconnect.”

Epstein makes sure to plug soldiers back in to Chabad Houses and synagogues back home and near their new assignments.

Because of the success of the High Holiday programming, Epstein wants to add Chanukah events and Passover celebrations for soldiers in basic training. Because Jewish soldiers frequently have non-Jewish battle buddies – recruits travel in pairs and are not allowed to be apart during training – opportunities to come to synagogue can frequently dispel Jewish stereotypes.

Jewish soldiers celebrate the High Holidays with the help of the Aleph Institute.

“It’s quite amazing the feedback I get out of these services,” remarked Soussan. “They’re grateful that they’re being treated nicely, and we include everyone as much as possible.”

Epstein spoke of the positive relationship between Aleph House and Fort Jackson, noting that working with soldiers has been an inspiring experience.

“Basic training is very difficult. The soldiers are under extremely high pressure and stress, and it causes them to question what their values are,” he explained.

Coming to services and having access to holiday events “allows them to be better soldiers, and better prepared mentally and emotionally for their mission. Often we talk about Jewish values and how they pertain to their mission as soldiers.”

Weekly services draw between 30 and 40 soldiers. Depending on the time of year, the soldiers also receive packages for Purim, Passover and Yom Kippur, as well as e-mails about upcoming holidays and Jewish practice.

Rabbi Aaron Lipskar, executive director of the Aleph Institute, said that it’s a relationship Jewish soldiers can count on no matter where in the world they may find themselves.

“Through getting connected at the Aleph House, they’re being given that opportunity to know what’s available to them and who they can turn to regardless of where they may be stationed and deployed,” he said.

It’s My Opinion: Spreading The Help

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

     The importance placed on helping the less fortunate is an admirable trait of the Jewish community. Over the last month, my office has received many press releases touting programs and activities aimed at this sense of generosity. I will share two of them.

 

    One of the press releases proudly spoke of the volunteers at the Miami Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged as they “celebrated its first-ever Christmas party with needy children from the Little Haiti Soccer Stadium Park.”   The group was, “spreading the joy of the holiday season and distributing $700 worth of toys to the local youngsters.”

 

   The organization’s public relations representative asked me to include a photo with the story.  It showed a group of Jewish looking matrons, embracing a smiling group of happy Haitian children. 

 

   Another item was a press release about the Greater Miami Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Volunteer Day on Christmas.  Four of the five activities that were scheduled involved events that were meant to feed, distribute toys and spread Christmas “holiday cheer” among the needy.  There was only one Jewish Chanukah event, which involved candle lighting for seniors and a card-making project.

 

   Certainly, one would have to be heartless to begrudge a needy human being to have a happy holiday, no matter what religion is practiced.  However, the Jewish community can simply not afford the drain on its very limited resources. 

 

    The Jewish population of the United States is about one-and-a-half of a percent. Many of these Jews are totally unaffiliated.  The ones that identify with Judaism are few, indeed.

 

    The Jewish penchant of taking on so many causes has deleterious results.  It cuts into the very limited available funds and resources that should be directed toward helping our own brothers and sisters.

 

   Perhaps the kind and well-intentioned Jewish volunteers in South Florida could be steered to local organizations like JAFCO, (the Jewish Adoption and Foster Care Organization), Chai Lifeline, or the Aleph Institute.  Local synagogues and yeshivot could also use a helping hand.

 

   When did you ever hear of a Christian charitable organization raising money to assure that poor Jews could enjoy a Seder, or buy kosher meat or give their children Chanukah gelt?  It is a harmful indulgence to take care of others when so many of our own people are facing hardship. 

 

    There are Jewish men, women and children who are in need.  There are Jewish youngsters who did not get a single Chanukah toy.  There are Jewish families who can barely scrape by.  There are Jews who are ragged and poorly fed.

     Jewish individuals and organizations need to stop flitting about saving the world.  We have a lot of work in our own backyard.  Helping all types of people may be satisfying, but we really are our own brothers’ keeper. 

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community//2009/01/07/

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