Not just an Orthodox issue
The last JTNews issue article about my having recently dodged bullets in two predatory lawsuits from non-Jewish prison inmates (?Prison Chaplain off the hook,? June 23) was very accurate. However, the term ?Orthodox? appeared so many times that readers might mistakenly conclude this to be an exclusively Orthodox issue.
Even though relatively few Jewish inmates were Orthodox prior to incarceration, prisons have taken to using ?Orthodox Jewish? to distinguish actual Jews from so-called ?Messianic Jews.? This erroneous application stems from the customary prison practice of combining all ?Jewish? religious programs. As Messianic numbers increase, so has turmoil between the two groups ? particularly out of Messianics trying to pressure Jews into converting to their brand of Christianity ? and prison officials have begun separating their activities. While this is certainly preferable, Jewish prisoners from all branches are now being designated ?Orthodox? for convenience sake.
The Orthodox conversion process may be most stringent, but no branch of Judaism accepts mere self-declaration as bona fide conversion. Also central to proper conversion is that it be a free ? meaning knowledgeable ? choice. To the contrary, while virtually every inmate claiming to have (self-)converted to Judaism calls himself/herself Orthodox, many of them don?t even know that there are various branches of Judaism, let alone have the knowledge to meet any branch?s criteria for conversion. Moreover, very few are sincere about converting, as most are angling for a kosher diet, scamming for monetary settlements, or otherwise manipulating the prison system.
Despite the anomalies of prison culture, your chaplaincy continues to serve all incarcerated Jewish men, women and their families, from the highly religious through to the secularized non-observant. Unfortunately, however, much of our meager resources are wasted on combating the antics of non-Jews.
In one way though, this is an Orthodox matter because almost all of our financial support comes from the free-world Orthodox community. So, if the prison jargon for us and our clients is ?Orthodox,? at least we?re being given an exemplary label.
Chaplain Gary Friedman, Chairman
Jewish Prison Services International
Outside the ambit
As Gary Friedman?s attorney, I read Manny Frishberg?s story with interest. We can only hope that Washington?s Department of Corrections will now reach the same conclusion that Judge Pro has reached: purely religious decisions concerning purely religious practices are outside the ambit of ?state action.?
Another way to volunteer
It was wonderful to see the varied volunteer opportunities available to community members concerned about tikkun olam (?Opportunities for making a difference,? June 23). As those who volunteer know, giving to others is deeply satisfying, fostering feelings of connection, multicultural understanding, and the experience of making our world a kinder place.
I would like to add one additional program to your roster: Study Buddy is a literacy tutoring program that matches volunteers with children in grades K-8 who need academic support. It is sponsored by the Jewish Education Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. Since 1998, hundreds have volunteered with the program, demonstrating compassion, commitment, and their own love of learning. Currently, tutors serve 11 different schools and community organizations throughout Seattle and Bellevue. Training and support are provided, and a one-hour commitment per week is requested. For additional information, please contact me at 206-774-2279 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Study Buddy Program Coordinator
Jewish Education Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle