This Passover as we celebrate our freedom, many men and women do not have that luxury, as they are in prison. Some still celebrate their spiritual freedom, though, with the help of Rabbi Yossi Carron, a chaplain of the Los Angeles prison system.
Carron helps prisoners by leading weekly Torah study groups and ministering to individual inmates at each of the half-dozen jails in his chaplaincy. But he said he needs help. He needs books.
"I know that all of you are aware of the transformational work I do serving the Jewish inmates in the largest jails in the United States," he wrote in a e-mail plea to the Jewish community. "These men and women are so inspired by the texts of our tradition as they endeavor to turn their lives around. Unfortunately, we have a big problem. Almost no books: Tanakhim, siddurim, Chumashim, Jewish recovery books. My Christian colleagues are distributing the New Testament by the truckloads and I am in dire need of supplies."
Carron mentions some of his men who are doing well because of their newfound connection to Judaism while they were in prison. He says that "Ari" has been sober for two and a half years, made restitution for what he did and is now in medical school; "Mike" has enrolled in USC to complete his last semester and is due to graduate in August; and "Steven" is now working in mortgage banking.
More books are needed to help men and women recover, draw meaning from their heritage to improve their lives and prepare them to enter the community as productive members.
"Remember that our tradition tells us that 'if you save one life, it is as if you saved the world.'"
For a tax-deductible donation, send a check to The Board of Rabbis of Southern California, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 430, Los Angeles, CA 90049. Write On check: FOR RABBI CARRON'S BOOK/SUPPLYFUND. Or to Rabbi Yossi Carron, Mekom Tikvah: A Place of Hope, 17046 Burbank Blvd. Unit '11, Encino, CA 91316. To see the wishlist of books needed go to www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/17VAWQJ5861X6/ref=cm_wl_rlist_go/105-3566560-5906057 and send the books to Rabbi Carron, Men's Central Jail, Office of Religious practices, 441 Bauchet Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012.
Pluralistic Bet Din Reopens
The Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din of Southern California, a local pluralistic religious court dealing with conversions, has resumed operation after three months' closure due to lack of funding.
The beit din has recently raised $5,000 in a challenge grant by George Caplan, the original funder of the court. These funds should last a year or two, as all the rabbis donate their services for free, and only operational costs are necessary.
"It's the only permanent pluralistic beit din in the United States," said Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein, who serves as secretary.
The court has performed more than 100 conversions since its inception in 2002. The conversions are acceptable to Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements, in an effort to streamline the process for converts who may choose to belong to one of those denominations.
For more information, visit www.scbetdin.us.
Tasting Judaism, the Reform Way
The Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) has begun its successful "Taste of Judaism" program here in Los Angeles, in 17 synagogue locations from San Pedro to Woodland Hills.
"A Taste of Judaism" consists of three free sessions: Jewish Ethics, Jewish Community and Jewish Spirituality, and is aimed at "beginners, open to anyone, Jewish or not," as the ad says.
As an outreach tool, "A Taste of Judaism: Are You Curious?" reaches out to unaffiliated adults -- Jews, interfaith couples and their families and anyone who is interested in learning more about Judaism. Each class aims to provide participants in three two-hour sessions with a "taste" of what is delicious about Judaism in the areas of spirituality, ethics and community (God, Torah and Israel) in order to whet their appetites for further Jewish learning and to provide opportunities for participation in congregational life.
Since its inception in 1994, when 171 people responded to the first offerings in New Jersey, "A Taste of Judaism" has reached more than 75,000 participants in almost every state and province throughout the United States and Canada. It has been offered in 450 synagogues, both in large metropolitan areas with many congregations offering the program concurrently, as well as in smaller communities with a single small congregation.
According to the URJ, after the program, more than 33 percent of all participants enrolled in "Introduction to Judaism" classes; 34 percent enrolled in other congregational adult education offerings; 13 percent of non-Jews sought out sponsoring rabbis and entered the process of conversion; and nearly 20 percent of Jewish participants joined a synagogue.
"This program throws the doors open of our classes like a gift to the people of Los Angeles," says Arlene Chernow, regional director of outreach and membership. "Come and meet our Reform rabbis and learn enough about Judaism so you can decide if you want to learn more," she said.
For more information, visit www.urj.org/outreach/classes/taste.
Taste of Judaism - class dates and locations
Northridge - Temple Ahavat Shalom
Valley Village - Temple Beth Hillel
Los Angeles - Leo Baeck Temple
Tarzana - Temple Judea
Hollywood - Temple Israel of Hollywood
Los Angeles - Wilshire Blvd Temple
Woodland Hills - Temple Kol Tikvah
Brentwood - University Synagogue
West Hollywood - Congregation Kol Ami
San Pedro - Temple Beth El
Los Angeles - Wilshire Blvd Temple