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July 11, 2003

Christian Jail Programs Instill Faith in Rebirth

As a Jewish inmate in a federal prison, I have a somewhat unique vantage point from which to observe the success of faith-based programs (“Bush Plans to Introduce Christian Rehab Program In Federal Prison System,” June 27).

“On the street,” to use the local vernacular, I was one of three rabbis in a congregation of 2,000 families; here, I am rabbi of a much smaller, but no less important, congregation. We are 18 inmates strong: 11 North American Jews, two Cuban Jews and five men who are in various stages of choosing to become Jewish.

Working in the chaplain’s office allows me to be an informal liaison between the chaplain and the “B’nai Butner,” as we call our prison’s congregation. It also allows me to observe — and applaud — the wonderful impact of Christianity upon the lives of so many of my fellow inmates.

Most prison inmates are, of course, far more susceptible to the influence of Christianity than to the influence of what the Forward terms “minority religions.” The Jesus metaphor does not work for us Jews, but it can be a very powerful source of faith and hope for most of the inmates here and in other prisons. Christian fellowship is clearly not meaningful to us Jews, but it can literally save the lives of most inmates here, in the same way that outreach from our Jewish families and communities can be the “hands of Hashem” in our lives.

In some instances, as is well-known, “jailhouse” conversions turn out to be short-lived — but in many cases, prisoners’ lives have truly been turned around. I have seen drug dealers, armed robbers, sex offenders, compulsive gamblers and identity thieves become “reborn.”

If Prison Fellowship Ministries, or any other faith-based evangelical programs, can help Christians find their way to God here in prison, and maintain their connection with God — and with communities of like-minded believers — when they leave prison, then such programs must be helped to flourish, rather than be short-circuited by constitutional impediments.

Jerrold Levy

Low Security Correctional Institution

Federal Correctional Complex Butner

Butner, N.C.

Contrary to the suggestion of a July 4 letter writer, I have read the University Of Pennsylvania study of Prison Fellowship Ministries’ program in the Texas prisons (“Faith Programs Work”).

The prison fellowship program indeed reduced recidivism. But as the reader of the study quickly discovers, it is the only program of its kind in the Texas prison system. No other program is even remotely as extensive, and none, at least to judge from the study, provides free world mentors to inmates about to be released — the aspect of the prison fellowship program the study says is most effective in reducing recidivism. Certainly, no secular program providing similarly comprehensive services was systematically compared to the Prison Fellowship Ministries’ faith-based program.

The prison fellowship program is no doubt more effective in reducing recidivism than doing nothing. But whether faith has anything special to do with that reduction — or whether the program simply proves that caring intelligently for other human beings can make a difference in peoples’ lives even if the approach is wholly secular — is still entirely unknown.

Charitable-choice proponents argues that there is something unique about faith-based programs. The University of Pennsylvania study does not even begin to support that thesis.

Marc Stern

Assistant Executive Director

American Jewish Congress

New York, N.Y.

‘Who Is a Jew?’ History

The Forward reports that the “Who is a Jew?” debate has been a political and legal minefield in Israel for five decades.” It’s much older than that (“‘Who’s a Jew’ Battle Flares in Jerusalem,” July 4).

When Britain set up a mock constitution for its Palestine Mandate under the Orders in Council of 1921, it left jurisdiction over all personal matters to the establishments of the major religions, just as the Ottoman Turks had done under their irades, or ordinances.

This left marriage, divorce, burial, inheritance and all other personal status to chief rabbis, sheiks, patriarchs and what have you. It was a cop out.

Stephen Esrati

Shaker Heights, Ohio

Middle America’s Vote

So the editorial director of Tikkun, David Wallis, interviews a Tikkun founder, Danny Goldberg, and we’re expected to accept the conclusions (“Why the Democratic Party Needs Generation Y,” July 4)?

Goldberg ignores several facts in his prognosis for the Democratic Party. First, no liberal Democrat has won the presidency since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his liberalism before his election is open to debate. John F. Kennedy ran to the right of Hubert Humphrey in 1960. George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis were crushed. The two Democrat winners were southern governors, both moderates.

Second, Ralph Nader’s crime was not stealing electoral votes. In fact, Pat Buchanan stole more from George W. Bush than Nader took from Al Gore. The problem was that he and Bill Bradley forced Gore to the left, costing him all of the moderate-right states.

Apparently the left needs to learn every 12 years or so what the right learned in 1964: Middle America, the 40% in the center, decides elections. If the Democrats don’t figure out a way to reach that 40%, 2004 will be as big a debacle as were 1972 and 1984.

Joel Gardner

Cherry Hill, N.J.

CAIR About Terrorism

Rather than laud the apprehension and conviction of Robert Goldstein for his hateful plot to blow up a Muslim community center in Florida, the Council on American-Islamic Relations unfairly criticizes law enforcement’s handling of the case (“Mystery Shrouds Florida Doc Who Plotted Mosque Bombing,” June 27).

CAIR suggests that the government applies a double standard in domestic terrorism cases, applying harsher penalties against Muslims compared with non-Muslims, and holds up this case involving a Jewish defendant as an example. CAIR spokesman Ahmed Bedier displays a conveniently short memory, having clearly forgotten the FBI case brought against the late leader of the Jewish Defense League, Irv Rubin, for plotting to bomb a mosque.

More ironic still is CAIR’s rush to label anti-Muslim crimes as “terrorism,” given its own sorry history in not condemning violent crimes against Jews. The organization has consistently refused to condemn Hamas, despite its murderous record in the Middle East and abroad.

CAIR should closely examine its own moral and legal analysis of terrorist acts before turning its sights on law enforcement.

Ken Jacobson

Associate National Director

Anti-Defamation League

New York, N.Y.

Why ‘Oy’ with ‘Pioneer’?

The headline to a July 4 book review of “Mordecai: An Early American Family” is somewhat off target in its reference to the 1913 book “O Pioneers!” by Willa Cather (“Oy Pioneer!”).

The Mordecais were on the East Coast during the 18th and 19th centuries, while Cather’s Czechs, Bohemians and Swedes were on the prairies during the late 19th century. Characters in the latter book include Moses and Bergson, and Cather was interested in the French Jewish philosopher Henri Bergson, but alas, “O Pioneers!” has no Jewish content.

Despite the chronological and geographic misfit of caption to content, the Forward does raise the issue of Cather’s attitude toward Jews. Readers might be interested in taking a look at Cather’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1922 novel “One of Ours” — America’s answer to “All Quiet on the Western Front” — and the 1925 book “The Professor’s House” to determine whether Cather’s voice regarding Jews is her voice, the voice of the 1920s, or criticism of Jewish stereotypes.

Oliver Pollak

Department of History

University of Nebraska at Omaha

Omaha, Neb.

Joe Mixes JFK, FDR

The June 27 Campaign Confidential column reports a speech from presidential candidate Senator Joseph Lieberman this way: “The centrist contender emphasized his liberal domestic-policy credentials while sounding themes of ‘fiscal responsibility’ and a strong defense, claiming President Kennedy as an inspiration for his politics and even quoting the slain leader’s remark: ‘To some generations, much is given. Of other generations, much is expected.’”

Well, Joe got it wrong. That quote wasn’t from Kennedy, but rather from Franklin D. Roosevelt, during the acceptance of his party’s presidential nomination for the second time, on another June 27, this one in 1936.

It was actually the line following the quote cited by Lieberman that became famous. “There is a mysterious cycle in human events,” Roosevelt said. “To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”

William Katz

White Plains, N.Y.


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