We spent some time talking together and they seemed like a nice bunch of guys who were looking forward to leaving soon. They had anywhere from two weeks to nine months left in prison. Our conversation somehow got onto the topic of blessings in disguise. Several volunteered that prison had been the greatest blessing in their lives. It brought them to a screeching halt, got them away form the trouble they’d been up to, forced them to collect their shattered pieces, get help, and learn more about themselves and their religion.

They asked me if I would lead them in singing some Pesach songs. Why not? I can honestly say that during Pesach 2008 I was part of an ad-hoc choir sitting around a table in a kosher for Pesach U.S. federal prison camp cafeteria singing Pesach songs. We sang a bit of “Chad Gadya” and several rounds of “L’shanah Ha’ba’ah b’Yerushalayim.” I wished them all the very best, and I was escorted back to the main entrance.

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My father and I sure had a lot to talk about on the way back to Harrisburg.

Looking back, I have two main observations about that unique day:

1) We ought to be extremely thankful that we live in the United States of America. I was shocked at how far the prison went to accommodate the inmates’ religious needs. What other country would be so sensitive?

2) Although the U.S. government does all it can to help Jewish inmates get all the kosher for Pesach food they could possibly need, being at home for Yom Tov is just a whole lot better. So please, as citizens of this great country, let’s all be sure to obey its laws.

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Rabbi Akiva Males began serving as rabbi of the Young Israel of Memphis in the summer of 2016. Prior to that, he served as a congregational rabbi in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at: rabbi@yiom.org.