Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Abuse of Jewish Prisoners

Three years ago, I began working on a book that detailed the plight of Jewish prisoners in American jails.  This week, the book is being published through a French company, revealing horrific conditions that most Americans cannot even imagine.

The book grew out of a chance meeting with Sid Kleiner, a resident of Naples, Florida, and a long-time advocate for the prisoners.  We met on a cruise ship.  I thought an English couple we had met previously were waving hello to my wife and me.  Actually, they were greeting Sid and his wife, Trudy.  After the English couple left, Sid started telling us about his efforts to help Jewish inmates.

He is one of a handful of advocates who battle daily to improve the lot of Jewish inmates.  Another, Gary Friedman, has testified before Congress on hearings that touched on this issue.  They are swamped by the number of Christian ministries as well as by outside apathy and, in many cases, hostility.

My wife volunteered me to write a book to help Sid in his crusade.  In turn, Sid opened his files to let me read the letters desperate prisoners wrote him.  I had no idea of the depth of the problem.

Few people do.

For one thing, there aren’t a lot of Jews in jail.  Statistics are hard to find and notoriously inaccurate since inmates claim religious affiliations for various reasons.  Still, only about 1 percent of all prisoners are Jewish.  That is in line with the percent of Jews in the American population, about 1.7 percent.

As a result, Jews in prison are vastly outnumbered by Christians, Muslims and other religious groups.  They are also targeted by Christian chaplains in a relentless effort to convert them.

Neo-Nazi inmate
In addition, they face extremely hostile prison gangs, such as Aryan Nation, which attack them on the basis of religious affiliation.  They are also subjected to abuse by prison guards and administrators.

To compound the problem, they get little support from the Jewish community.  Most Jews would rather pretend that their co-religionists don’t commit the kinds of crimes that lead to lengthy prison terms.  However, no religion can prevent anyone from committing a felony.  In the past, Jews have served as Mafia hitmen as well as murderous gang leaders, although they are more associated with white-collar crimes, such as embezzlement, drugs and scams.

Kosher food
In prison, Jews have no escape and no refuge.  They have been beaten, raped and murdered simply because of their religion.  They are particularly distinctive if they request kosher food, which has to be prepared outside the prison and delivered.  In fact, as I found in my research, one neo-Nazi group started to identify its members as Jewish to obtain what the organization felt was better food. 

One of the leaders finally decided that was being too hypocritical and dropped the request.

The situation is slightly better under Barack Obama than under George W. Bush, who pushed faith-based ministries.  Bush is sure that religion somehow is a panacea and would convince inmates to reform.  Naturally, he was positive Christianity was the only route for inmates.  His administration funded faith-based programs that subjected Jewish inmates to increased pressure and abuse.

Since such programs have been shown to be complete failures, they have largely vanished once Bush left office.

Nevertheless, Jewish prisoners still face widespread abuse.  The men and women in jail aren’t there because of a miscarriage of justice or because of their religious affiliation.  However, they don’t expect to be maltreated because of their religion.

I don’t know if the book will have any effect.  I doubt it.  I do know that it is an issue that has been ignored.

I hope you’ll get a copy of the book.  It’s called Passover in Prison and should be available via Amazon and other sites shortly.  The proceeds are going to Kleiner’s nonprofit.  He and his wife have funded their outreach for years, buying religious articles and waging nonstop writing campaigns with prison administrators to improve the living condition of Jews behind bars.

Kleiner is now in his 80s.  He’s hoping the book will help carry on the effort when he is no longer able to.

At least, now, no one can say the problem is hidden anymore.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1

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