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June 23, 1989 - Image 26

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-06-23

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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26,

FRIDAY, JUNE 23, 1989

549-6374

Serving Those
Who Serve

SUSAN LUDMER-GLIEBE

Special to The Jewish News

11) riving south on
U.S. 23, Rabbi
Aharon Gold-
stein of Ann Ar-
bor passes bill-
boards and signs that clearly
depict a message: Prison
Area. Do Not Pick Up
Hitchhikers.
Rabbi Goldstein, of the
Chabad House Lubavitch,
has no intentions of picking
up any hitchhikers. Instead,
he will make his weekly visit
to Jewish prisoners at the
Federal Correctional Institu-
tion at Milan.
As he enters the level three
prison — somewhere between
minimum and maximum
security — Rabbi Goldstein
gets his security clearance
and picks up an identification
card. He then enters a room,
where six men greet him.
Most are dressed in sweats
and gym shoes. They place
yarmulkas on their heads.
Rabbi Goldstein sees a few
unfamiliar faces. He asks a
few questions. The service
begins.
Rabbi Goldstein is the paid
contract rabbi for the Jewish
prisoners at Milan. He is the
only representative from the
Jewish community who visits
the Jewish inmates in Milan,
which is home for many found
guilty of such crimes as extor-
tion, mail fraud, drug traf-
ficking and tax evasion.
Prisoners include attorneys,
certified public accountants
and businessmen.
Goldstein is one of about
150 rabbis nationwide who
regularly visit Jewish
prisoners. There are few full-
time Jewish prison chaplains;
some states have no Jewish
chaplains, even part-time
ones. But no matter if they
are serving a federal institu-
tion like Milan or a state
prison like the state prison of
Southern Michigan at
Jackson or a county jail, the
reason for having a prison
rabbi remains the same.
"The role of the Jewish
prison chaplain is to minister
to the needs of inmates and
also to minister to staff who
need help or information
regarding Jewish religious
practices," explains Rabbi
Moses A. Birnbaum, associ-
ate executive director of the
board of rabbis who is involv-
ed with chaplain services.
Each prison operates dif-
ferently, but many observers

agree the federal system
seems more receptive to in-
suring that the needs of
Jewish inmates are at least
recognized and responded to.
Milan has a kosher meal
service and a small Jewish
library. Goldstein often
brings tapes and video casset-
tes he thinks might be of in-
terest. Ritual objects like
tallitot, siddurim, a shofar
and menorah are on hand
when needed. And, perhaps
most important for the in-
mates, the Jewish holidays
are observed.
Though many Jews would
prefer to think that Jewish
criminals died with the likes
of the Purple Gang, the facts
belie that illusion. It is
estimated that 100 Jews are
serving time in Michigan
prisons. Rabbi Goldstein,
Rabbi Bob Shafran of
Jackson, Stacie Schiff Fisher
of Farmington Hills of the
B'nai B'rith International
Coalition for Jewish Prisoner
Services and a few metro
Detroit rabbis all serve as
prison chaplains in the state.
Rabbi Goldstein says his
purpose is to assist prisoners

For information on the
Michigan Jewish
Prisoner Outreach
Program, write to
P.O. Box 248106,
Farmington, Mich.
48332.

so they may re-examine their
lives and their relationship to
other men and God.
"If you can get to their
hearts, they can find a way to
Judaism," Rabbi Goldstein
says.
"Jewish prisoners are
forgotten. They're a well-kept
secret," says Michael Brooks,
director of Hillel at the
University of Michigan who
spent 14 years working with
the Jewish prisoners at
Milan.
Because many cases are
short term or transfers, the
number of Jews in Milan fluc-
tuates. Currently, there are
about a dozen Jews in Milan
which has a prison population
of about 1,300 men.
According to a recent study
by the B'nai B'rith Commis-
sion on Community
Volunteer Services, about 400
prisoners identify themselves
as Jews in the federal prison
services.
One prisoner at Milan sug-
gests these numbers will in-
crease because the federal

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