Imagine sitting behind bars since the late 70’s with no date on the calendar when you get to go home! Where is your hope? Where is your faith? How do you carry on? How do you ever get a taste of freedom.?
Nine years ago I was asked to visit a group of individuals incarcerated not to far from us here in Oberlin, I can tell you I wasn’t particularly excited about the prospect, what would I be able to offer these folks? I was a guy in my mid-twenties, born after half of them were incarcerated, but I was told if I don’t go visit them there is no one else…So lo and behold I made my first visit to prison. Over the past nine years my visits have spanned numerous institutions, and I believe that we have been able to make these men feel just a little bit more human and less like an inmate. I have been fortunate enough to hang mezuzahs on homes upon release, and enjoy a dinner in a restaurant with another, but it still nags at me, who is left behind “inside”.
So how do we talk about Passover in prison? On one hand this group has been dreaming about freedom for decades, but on the other hand those locks still click behind me and they remain on the other side of the electrified barbed wire fence. I can’t promise these men a date they will once again walk on the streets ,but I can show these men that they are still owed to be treated with dignity and respect. They have the right to sit at a seder on the eve of Passover and ask “why is this night different from all other nights?” . True they won’t be donning their finest suits, rather the same state issued blue scrubs as every other day…but tonight is different! Through many efforts they will be gathered together as the Jewish community, they will sing, they will dine, and they will recline like free men. Chabad at Oberlin will provide these individuals with the exact same feast that will be served at our own seders, the very same hand-made shmurah matzahs, and a sense of joy and liberation. They have the opportunity to break down the barriers that separate them from society and not be imprisoned, they get to be Jews!!!
Help us provide a taste of freedom to these individuals that I visit, let them know and understand that they are not forgotten by their community. Our goal is to raise $1,500 to subsidize our efforts with incarcerated individuals in Ohio.