Yearning for Freedom

Friday, 8 March, 2013 - 1:44 pm

A Rabbi once arranged for a Seder to take place for Jewish inmates in a prison. After Pesach he followed up with the inmates to see how things went. They said, “Rabbi, everything was wonderful and plentiful. There was only one thing missing from our Seder. When it came time to open the door for Elijah, the guards did not allow us to do so.

Several years ago I wrote a blogpost entitled Defining Freedom, which can be found here: In a nutshell it explains the apparent paradox of Jews in exile – under all kinds of difficult conditions – declaring Pesach to be a “season of our liberation” – and asserting their freedom.  

This week, on one of my visits to Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, I shared this thought with Rachel, the Jewish woman who is incarcerated there. We discussed the idea for several minutes but I saw that it was not speaking to her. She mentioned something to me that I had not considered. She pointed out that even when the Jews were in the concentration camps, gulags and other circumstances of persecution, they usually had each other with whom to declare their freedom and try to experience the inherent freedom of the Jewish soul. The difficulty for Rachel is that she is the only Jew in a facility of over 1,200 inmates. Holidays are very tough because there is nobody with whom to celebrate. As she put it to me, “I will be doing Passover, but celebrating is going to be difficult.” The intense loneliness that is there all year round becomes more strongly felt at holidays.

Last year I reached out to the community asking for people that are willing to get involved in being supportive of Rachel’s situation in various ways. Several generous and kind individuals have come forward to get involved. Some have gone to visit. Others have written and emailed. Others have provided some financial support so that we could give Rachel Kosher food. As another year has passed we are looking for more people to take an interest and get involved. If you are interested and would like to find out more please let me know.

As we prepare to celebrate Passover with family and friends let us not forget those that are less fortunate than ourselves. We say in the introductory passage of the Haggadah “let all those that need come and eat.” It is not just lip service – we have to mean it and do something about it.

Wishing you all a very meaningful, kosher and happy Passover season!

A hearty mazel tov to Rabbi and Mrs. Nemes upon the birth of their son, who’s Bris will be held this coming Tuesday afternoon. May they have much nachas from him and the rest of the family.

Mazel tov to David Rittvo upon his engagement to Corey Smith. We extend heartfelt congratulatory wishes to David & Corey and his parents, our good friends, Lee and Steve Rittvo.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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