What a Summer of Visiting Prisons Taught a Rabbi about Family and Community

Sept. 24 2020

In the 2017, Mendel Jacobson spent a month providing chaplaincy services at a series of prisons, along with a fellow rabbinical student. He describes the first of 30 such visits:

Watching inmates pray was a sight to behold. Knowing their crimes—some of them were serial killers and rapists—it was hard to reconcile the ostensible purity of their prayers with their past. We then moved to group study. Because our visit coincided with the date of the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem and the subsequent exile, we discussed the nature of exile and redemption. Just as the Jews had survived the exile for 2,000 years with their traditions intact, these Jews could survive their own exile in prison and remain connected to their faith. They seemed to accept the message. We then ended the visit talking individually to the inmates, hearing about their pre-incarceration lives, before we were escorted back to our car.

Over the course of these visits, Jacobson came to a realization about family, community, and crime:

The contrast between our own childhoods and that of the inmates we met was striking. Brought up in a devoutly religious community that bred strong, healthy families, we had been formed to be upstanding citizens. For us to have become criminals would have entailed rebelling against everything our parents and community had taught us. These inmates, [by contrast], had been primed for criminality during their childhoods. For them not to have become criminals would have constituted an act of rebellion.

Our conversations with the inmates revealed just how much their families had negatively impacted them. Many never had a parent or positive role model to lovingly discipline them when they needed it. With no family or community support, a life of crime, drugs, and gangs beckoned.

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Read more at Law and Liberty

More about: American society, Community, Crime, Family, Rabbis

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy