Archive for November, 2008

No Homecoming On Thanksgiving For Jewish Prisoners

November 25, 2008

Notes from Producer/Director, Rhonda Moskowitz

For many of us, Thanksgiving is a holiday of reconnecting with family and coming home. However, there is a segment of our nation’s Jews for whom there will be no Thanksgiving homecoming. Thousands of our nation’s Jews will spend Thanksgiving inside prisons, profoundly isolated and devoid of any genuine human connection. 

Some of the people in my documentary film-in-progress, TESHUVA (RETURN), will spend Thanksgiving alone in their cells. Drug addiction is what caused  them to commit the crimes for which they are being punished.  Not only will they suffer on Thanksgiving Day, but their family members will suffer. There will be empty place settings at the Thanksgiving tables of their families, as well as feelings of shame.

So when you give thanks, thank G-d you’re at a Thanksgiving feast with your loved ones, and not sitting alone in a cold, hard cell. Be thankful you haven’t gone so far astray that you land in prison. Or if you have made grave mistakes, be thankful you escaped such a harsh punishment.

Be charitable in your thinking. Remember that penitentiary comes from the word penitence. Jewish prisoners are our brothers. We are our brothers keeper. Jews who have committed crimes are human beings. Every Jewish soul is capable of transformation and redemption. Every one.


November 21, 2008

From Producer/Director, Rhonda Moskowitz

You are:

  • a prisoner
  • a drug addict
  • a thief
  • an adulterer
  • a sinner
  • an alcoholic
  • a murderer

We tend to define people who have gone astray in their worst moment where they remain stuck in our minds, sometimes for the rest of their lives. This is dehumanizing, especially if the person is trying to turn their life around, make ammends for any harm they’ve done to others, and do Tikum Olam (repair the world). We also tend to look at people as “bad” or “good,” and these strict perceptions are why, especially in the case of public figures, we have fallen idols, or why we’re surprised when a revered person we know has feet of clay.

You are:

  • a mother
  • a father
  • a doctor
  • an accountant
  • a writer
  • a waitress
  • a rabbi
  • an activist
  • a minister
  • an environmentalist
  • a poet
  • a husband
  • a wife
  • an entrepreneur
  • a teacher
  • a philanthropist
  • a son
  • a daughter
  • a student
  • helpful
  • compassionate

People are not all black and white, they’re complicated, multi-dimensional and contradictory.  There are many shades of gray and many facets to an individual. It diminishes us to perceive and define people narrowly.

In the course of making TESHUVA (RETURN), so much of what I know about people has been turned inside out and upside down.

It is my hope that when viewers see the film, their minds will expand, and the way we look at ourselves and others as people will never be the same again.

Dana, Phil and Addiction

November 15, 2008

From Producer/Director, Rhonda Moskowitz

We are following  Dana and Phil, who are the young Jewish parents of three year old, Elijah. Both Dana and Phil were incarcerated during most of Elijah’s second year of life. You can see their photographs on the photos page of the film’s web site.

We first filmed 23 year old Dana when she was in a maximum security prison, one month away from giving birth to her daughter. This prison is the only state facility that houses pregnant females. How did Dana, who was born to a middle class Jewish family, a successful student and editor of her high school newspaper, end up pregnant and incarcerated?

Phil had been released from jail the day before we first filmed him. Handsome, charismatic and intelligent, he has a strong spiritual connection to Judaism and had been working with a Rabbi  while incarcerated to help himself change. Phil had stolen from his aunt and a few days before his release, his aunt unexpectedly passed away. The Rabbi, who coincidentally had performed Phil’s Bar Mitzvah 10 years before, had plans to continue to work with Phil after his release. However, a short time after Phil got out, the Rabbi suddenly died. These two monumental losses sent Phil into a downward spiral of loss, grief and guilt.

Both Phil and Dana struggle with addiction to Oxycontin. The drug ‘s addictive powers are enormous. Oxyncontin shattered their lives and their families lives. They’ve betrayed and hurt their loved ones and also committed crimes out of desperation to get ahold of this terrible drug.

Our film is just as much a film about drug addiction as it is a film about Jewish prisoners. There is addiction in my family and also in the cinematographer, Sean’s family. Some of our film shoots are so harrowing, I don’t know how Sean can even hold the camera.

Dana and Phil are young and have their whole lives ahead of them. They also have a wonderful young son and Dana has a baby daughter.  I hope they can mend their broken lives.  I’m rooting for them.


November 15, 2008

Notes from Producer/Director, Rhonda Moskowitz

Rosol, the extraordinary woman who is Philip’s mother and Martin Grossman’s aunt

We walked into a tragedy when we first filmed our families. Myra, the aunt of Philip, our main character, and the sister of Rosol, Phil’s mother, had unexpectedly passed away two days before any of us had met. There was a 20 year age difference between Myra and Rosol, but the two sisters were very close.  Myra’s son, Martin, is on Death Row. Myra, who was in her early 70s, came to live with Rosol and her husband Paul, two months before she died. Paul had converted his and Rosol’s garage into a large bedroom just for Myra and two months later she was gone.

Rosol opened up her life and her big heart to us, which still to this day, deeply touches me.  We were complete strangers who had flown in to film her and her family and Myra’s death was a big loss. The situation was also complicated by the fact that Rosol’s son, Phil, had stolen from his Aunt Myra to support his Oxycontin habit and in a couple of days, Phil was being released from jail.  Rosol has experienced more tragedy and heartbreak than one person can possibly endure. She has an expansive heart, great spirit,  a wonderful sense of humor and I love her.

Jewish Prisoners, A Startling Concept

November 14, 2008

Teshuva is a Judaic concept of redemption and return to God and one’s essential self. As Rabbi Mark Borovitz a former prisoner, who now runs the amazing Beit T’Shuvah states, “Teshuva was put into the world, because God knew that humans would get lost and make mistakes. God knew that we would need a way back.” Rabbi Borovitz should know. He’s the living embodiment of someone who experienced redemption, underwent a transformation and continues to do Teshuva everyday.

TESHUVA (RETURN) is a documentary fim-in-progress about three generations of two Jewish families, and each family has members who are or have been Jewish prisoners.  When I tell people I’m making a film about Jewish prisoners, most people think I’m making a film about the Holocaust. The fact that there are Jews who currently reside in our nation’s prisons is a startling concept. Jewish prisoners are a hidden, isolated and ostracized segment of our nation’s Jewish population. However,  Jews can no longer be ostriches. We are our brothers keepers.  Ignoring Jewish prisoners and their stigmatized families diminishes us as people.

We tend to define people at their worst moments. People are not all black or white. We are many shades of grey. We grow and change and are capable of mending our brokeness. We all have the capacity to experience redemption and undergo a transformation. It is my hope that the documentary film TESHUVA (RETURN) will expand peoples consciousness and change the way we view one another and ourselves.

Rhonda Moskowitz, Producer/Director