The Jewish Week’s annual 36 Under 36 honors young leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers who are making a difference in the life of Jewish New York. For the full list of this year’s “36ers,” click here.
What do you do?
I serve as the full-time Jewish chaplain for the New York City Department of Correction. I provide spiritual care, prayer, education and help ensure that religious needs are met for individuals in jail in New York City, most of whom await trial. I am there for Jews as well as incarcerated individuals and staff of all religions and no religion. When I started in 2018, I began collecting Jewish books and found new homes for them with incarcerated individuals. I have also worked with the Queer Niggun Project and the Hadar Institute to bring volunteers into jails to share melodies and teach Torah, distribute readers with essays for the Jewish holidays, and record and make available Jewish music on tablets which those in custody can use.
How did the pandemic affect your work?
Just after Purim 2020, communal religious services were suspended in the jails, as well as visits, court proceedings and many other daily activities. I still came to work in the jails every day. I distributed self-study handouts on the weekly Torah portion and holidays, as well as provided spiritual care. I helped ensure that everyone who wanted had prayer books for the High Holidays and Haggadahs for Passover even though we couldn’t have the large communal holiday celebrations which had always taken place in the past. In addition, I worked with colleagues and volunteers to upload Jewish books, videos and music to the tablets distributed to many of those in custody and make Jewish learning available.
How does your Jewish identity influence your work?
My passion for working with the incarcerated is based directly on my beliefs in teshuvah (repentance/return) and tzelem elokim (being created in God’s image) as core Jewish values. Even those who are accused of serious crimes deserve to be seen and treated as human beings, including access to spiritual care, learning, reflection and growth as avenues towards rehabilitation. Even though I am often aware of the crimes of which my congregants are accused, I try to look at the person in front of me ba’asher hu sham — how they are in the moment.
What’s your favorite place in New York to take an out-of-town guest?
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