PHILADELPHIA (Mar. 30)
Characterizing the action of the federal government as arbitrary, and deploring the circumstances which led to agitation in the federal prison at Lewisburg due to a decision to deny outside Passover food to Jewish prisoners, William Portner, prominent member of the Jewish community, inspector of the county prisons here and chairman of the District 3 B’nai B’rith Social Service Committee, which includes prison welfare, in a statement to the Jewish Daily Bulletin today stressed the value of religious services and observance of ceremonials in penal institutions.
His comment was evoked by the decision of some 170 Jewish inmates at Lewisburg to go on a voluntary forty-eight hour fast at the outset of the Passover celebration. The action was determined on as a protest against Gentile prisoners’ charges of discrimination favoring Jews in the matter of Passover food, Rabbi Charles Mantinband, chaplain of the prison, has been active for the past few weeks in an effort to maintain the custom of allowing outside groups to send in food prepared in traditional manner.
ATTACKS FEDERAL STAND
“There is no justification whatsoever,” Mr. Portner declared, “for the arbitrary stand taken by the federal government. Past experience has proven conclusively that Jewish religious ceremonials have a wholesome effect upon Jewish inmates in penal institutions.
“Our custom in the past has been to give Jewish prisoners in our jurisdiction matzos and food prepared in accordance with orthodox practices for Passover throughout the week of the holidays.
“This served to create a wholesome sobering atmosphere which inevitably left its mark upon inmates. We have always emphasized the religious and spiritual aspects of life and these have been a tremendous help.
“We in Philadelphia have been doing this type of work for more than fifteen years and the federal authorities might have given this subject a more thorough study before issuing prohibitive orders.
“Insofar as the institution at Lewisburg is concerned, the incident becomes all the more regretable since a person in charge such as the chaplain, Rabbi Charles Mantinband, is not only the government’s representative there, but, what is more important, is a man fully competent to handle the situation.
“Prior to his coming to Lewisburg, Rabbi Mantinband rendered valuable service at the federal prison in Leavenworth.
“If the federal authorities were displeased with the idea that food prepared for Passover purposes was being brought into the penal institutions from outside, they might have arranged to furnish food prepared in accordance with the Jewish requirements from their own commissaries.
“To eliminate the entire practice was certainly unwarranted. Though I have not discussed the matter with Rabbi Mantinband, I am quite sure the government would have received wholehearted cooperation from him, had they decided to arrange Sederim and to provide Passover food from their own commissaries.”
George Z. Medalie, president of the Jewish Board of Guardians, which concerns itself with the well being of Jewish prisoners, was optimistic regarding the reports of an impending two-day hunger strike of Jewish inmates of the Lewisburg penitentiary. The strike was characterized by Mr. Medalie as ill-advised and unnecessary. Mr. Medalie was in touch with Sanford Bates, superintendent of federal prisons, who assured him that while no food would be allowed from outside, Passover sup plies would be provided from regular maintenance funds.