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.

Read more at Law and Liberty

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

Russia’s Alliance with Hizballah Is Growing Stronger

Tehran’s ongoing cooperation with Moscow has recently garnered public attention because of the Kremlin’s use of Iranian arms against Ukraine, but it extends much further, including to the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt explain:

Over the last few years, Russia has quietly extended its reach into Lebanon, seeking to cultivate cultural, economic, and military ties in Beirut as part of a strategy to expand Russian influence in the Middle East, while sidelining the U.S. and elevating Moscow’s role as a peacemaker.

Russia’s alliance with Hizballah was born out of the conflict in Syria, where Russian and Hizballah forces fought side-by-side in an alliance with the Assad regime. For years, this alliance appeared strictly limited to military activity in Syria, but in 2018, Hizballah and Russia began to engage in unprecedented joint sanctions-evasion activities. . . . In November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury exposed a convoluted trade-based oil-smuggling sanctions-evasion scheme directed by Hizballah and [Iran].

The enhanced level of collaboration between Russia and Hizballah is not limited to sanctions evasion. In March 2021, Hizballah sent a delegation to Moscow, on its second-ever “diplomatic” visit to the country. Unlike its first visit a decade prior, which was enveloped in secrecy with no media exposure, this visit was well publicized. During their three days in Moscow, Hizballah representatives met with various Russian officials, including the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. . . . Just three months after this visit to Moscow, Hizballah received the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Rudakov in Beirut to discuss further collaboration on joint projects.

Read more at Royal United Services Institute

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Russia