Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Prisoners’


October 9, 2012

Note from Rhonda Moskowitz:  This is the 3rd in a series of essays about Martin Grossman. I’m excited to be giving a presentation on Martin at LeMood, Montreal’s largest Jewish festival. The amazing Rabbi Nochum Kurinsky witnessed Martin’s excecution. Below is a powerful essay he wrote about his experience. We will be skyping with Rabbi Kurinsky during my presentation.

Martin Grossman on the day of his Bar Mitzvah

The Day I Watched A Man Die

by Rabbi Nochum Kurinsky, February 2010

Today I watched a man die.

The call came in  at about 2:00 pm. “Can you be with Mr. Martin Grossman during his execution?”  How can you say no? How can you say yes? What can you say? After speaking to my wife, I decided to go. I made a few phone calls and found a companion for the road and off we went. Along the way, another friend offered to join and the three of us departed down the I95 to the I10 to be with Mr. Grossman.

A little background.

A few months ago Rabbi Mendy Katz from Aleph sent out an email to the local Chabad. Rabbis. In it was a very simple request. Due to the financial downturn Aleph could no longer afford to send Yeshiva students to all the prisons in Florida .  Would any community be willing to go visit a few prisons in their area? We volunteered. Rather, I volunteered and subsequently invited members of our community to come along.

On our first visit, during Chanukah, our group was divided into pairs of two for maximum efficiency. David Sall, a local psychiatrist and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lieberman, my lifetime friend and a local law student teamed up and I partnered with Dovid Moyer, a local financial repair specialist and businessman. Our group went to a number of prisons that day including Union Correctional. Mendy and David went to death row. As you know by now, death row housed the now world famous Martin Grossman A”H.

Several days after our visit to death row, the Governor signed Martin’s death warrant and set the date of execution for February 16th at 6:00 PM. Saddened by the news, but not really sure what to do, I kept about my daily business and even went back to visit the prison one more time with a group.

Sometime during January, Rabbi Katz called me, “Martin is going to die,” he said. “What we can do to help him?” At first, I have to admit, I was hesitant. What could I do? I’m a local Chabad Rabbi.  This is for the national organizations. After reading the proclamation by Rabbi Shochat of Los Angeles that one could even violate Shabbos to save Mr. Grossman, I was convinced.

First, I called Rabbi Mendy Katz back and told him I was on board but only to assist him, not to take charge of this. Then, I called Rabbi Oirechman the Chabad Rabbi in Tallahassee and asked if he was on board. After giving it some thought, he said that he was fully on board. Now was time to get the plan in motion.( Let also add that tremendous work was being done by many organizations at the time. This is just my account and the events that led me to watch Martin Die.) Rabbi Katz put together a letter that most of the 150 Chabad Rabbis in Florida signed. Another letter was written by Rabbi Zvi Biarsky which many Rabbis from every Jewish group signed as well, and they were both later hand delivered to the Governor by Rabbi Oirechman.

In addition, I started an online petition. On the first day we had 23 signatures, day two we had 200 on day three 1,000. At about that time, many in the broader Jewish community got involved in the cause to encourage the Governor to grant a clemency hearing to Mr. Grossman. Leaders from Agudath Israel, the OU, the RCC, many in the Yeshiva world in Monsey and Lakewood, and Satmar Chassidim were getting involved. It was simply amazing! The cause was taking a life of its own. Every day emails were being sent out to thousands upon thousands of people from all walks of life encouraging them to sign the petition. At its close, the petition had in excess of 33,000 signatures; many people wrote personal and some heart rending notes. The Achdus/togetherness of Klal Yisroel/the Jewish people was heart-warming.

Just to give further insight into this we put together a website called While  putting the site together, I realized in amazement, that  the man with the idea for the site was a Litvisher/yeshivish Jew, the man who paid for the site was a Satmar Chosid and here I was, a card carrying Lubavitcher shliach working on the site through’s unbelievable server system. Incidentally, nearly 20,000 people logged onto the site during the last week alone.

That’s the background for today’s events. I’m now on the way to the prison with my two friends Dr. David Sall and Rabbi Mendy Lieberman who by divine providence are the same two people who visited Martin during Chanukah. I did not specifically call them. I asked some others first. As they say a Jew plans and G-d laughs. I planned on spending my afternoon and evening with some teenagers at the local high school doing a Jewish teen group and helping my wife who just had a baby give the kids dinner and do bedtime. David was busy with some needed recreationand Mendy was at school. None of us ever expected our day to turn out the way it did.

We got to the prison and were told, as expected, that only I could go in. Mendy and David were to wait with the media across the street. I was escorted in and given the rundown. There was to be only respectful behavior. There would be no contact with Martin. No books or metal were allowed in. I  had the opportunity to meet with and thank a few of the chaplains and department heads who had been very helpful in our past prison visits. I also met Martin’s attorney. It was touching to be able to meet the man who put up such a fight for Martin over the years. .

At about 5:30 we were escorted together with all the other people who were to witness the execution H”LS. Amongst the group were about 7 or 8 members of Ms. Parks’ family. There were a number of state witnesses, and about 6 or 7 members of the press. We were taken through the metal detectors and searched. We then passed through a number of security doors which I was all too familiar with from previous visits. The mood was a mix. People were chatting nervously and were very cordial with each other. I was so thoroughly impressed with the Parks family and the other people present. They handled themselves so courteously despite the obviously intense tension..

We were taken into a van and driven to another section of the prison. We were then escorted into a room at about 5:45. The room was about 30 feet by 15 feet; it was lined with 3 rows of chairs each about 10 chairs deep. On the last row, furthest from the front, sat the members of the media. In front of them, the state witnesses, and in the first row was the Parks family and myself. For fifteen minutes you could hear a pin drop in that room. . Nobody looked at each other. People sat in silence, just reflecting. I put on my ‘gartel’ [special belt for prayer] and started to daven/pray. First I said a number of prayers by heart and then I started to say Psalms. I became oblivious to my surroundings, just simply lost in thought and prayer. Suddenly, I began thinking, what am I doing here? Why would Hashem want me to be here? What purpose does this serve? After all, there is so much pain and hurt in this room, the Parks family suffered terribly. They are obviously still dealing with much of it. Tens of thousands of Jewish people throughout the world are sitting in prayer, hoping praying that Hashem will have mercy and grant Mr. Grossman reprieve. And much of that burden falls on my shoulders as the one Jew, the one rabbi, the one ‘shliach’ of the Lubavitcher Rebbe sitting in this room.

Suddenly, a thought crossed my mind about all of those people, those individuals that the Rebbe had reached out to through the years – one Jew at a time, mostly through his shluchim. The Rebbe loved EVERY Jew. Here again there is one Jew sitting in   a faraway place in middle of nowhere, no family with him, no love from the audience. He would have died alone. The only person that cared about him was the Rebbe, who sent Rabbi Katz to spend 4 hours with him on his dying day and me to be here while he breathes his last breath.

I started to daven that whatever I think, whatever I feel should be what the Rebbe would want me to think and/or feel. What does Hashem want me to do now? I started to sing a niggun to myself based on the words “Kiayil taarog al afikei mayim kein nafshi taarog eilecho elokim.” My soul wants to be with you Hashem …..

Almost immediately the curtain opened and there was Martin in the next room. He was only four or five feet from us, but he was strapped down and covered up until his neck. The only visible part of him was his arm, in which was an IV that would deliver the sam hamoves, the poison, and his face. In the room with him were a police officer and someone who stood with a paper and notebook presumably recording every detail of what transpired. The room also had a large clock behind Martin as well as video cameras and microphones hanging from the ceiling. Otherwise there were freshly painted walls, a sparkling clean floor, and a one way glass leading to a third room behind Martin.

Martin did not look at the crowd nor at the police officer next to him, he just stared up at the ceiling. There was silence in the room, the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I for one was almost convulsing. The clock read 6:02.

The officer asked “Mr. Grossman do you have any final words?” to which Martin replied “Yes”.

Martin began “ I completely regret everything that I did on that night, both that which I remember and that which I do not”. He then said, “ I would like to say a prayer,” the officer said okay.

At that point Martin says “Shema Yisroel adon- elokenu adon- echod” in a loud voice and then said something that I will never forget so long as I live.

“Ahavat Yisroel”.

At that point I began to weep so loud that the guy behind me asked me if I would like to leave. There are no words to describe the way Martin died. Martin committed a terrible crime, one that will haunt a family  as long as they live. But with those two words he showed that, “ein dovor bo bifnei harotzon,” nothing stands in the way of a man’s will. Martin died proclaiming his affection for Yisroel his brothers and sisters throughout the world, more for G-d and his Torah as well. Martin died a repentant man, but more than that. Martin died a man that accomplished something that we as Jews have been trying to do for nearly 2,000 years He brought us together with true Jewish unity -Ahavas Yisroel.

Who knew a child born to an abusive father and sick mother, a boy who could not make it through school, a young man who shopped for drugs in his mother’s closet, a man who killed someone-  and not just a person, but a beautiful Park Ranger, who was just doing her job, while he was high on a cocktail of drugs,  could have such an incredible impact.

Martin died as a true bal Teshuvah Al Kidush Hashem, sanctifying G-d’s name in public, the highest level a Jew can reach on this earth.

Sing Sing’s Jews

August 30, 2012

Hard to believe it has been 11 years since I first filmed the Jews in Sing Sing. The catalyst was this intriguing New York Times article by journalist Marek Fuchs about the Jewish prisoners celebrating Hanukkah.

Filming Jewish Prisoners Who Have Taken A Life- Part I

February 2, 2012

I’ve been filming Jewish prisoners on and off for ten years and their contradictory, complicated natures have turned everything I’ve known about people inside out and upside down. Jews are locked up for a variety of crimes, but the Jews who have committed murder have blown my mind the most.

One Jewish murderer I filmed was Dr. Charles Friedgood a.k.a. “Doc,” a successful Long Island surgeon who murdered his wife. The comedian, Chris Rock, once joked, “If you ain’t thought of murder, you ain’t been in love.” However, the murder of Sophie (Davidowitz) Friedgood was no joking matter to the couple’s five Yeshiva educated children. I filmed “Doc” inside Sing Sing making charoset for the prison’s Passover Seder. It was hard to reconcile his grandfatherly, charming demeanor with his being a ruthless sociopath.

I became quite fond of another locked up Jew, an upper middle class business professional, married with children. He felt betrayed by his best friend and business partner, whom he believed had stolen a lot of money from him, bought a gun and shot him four times. This Jewish prisoner’s compassion and great sense of humor belied the murderous impulse that lurked in his soul. He could have been any father at my child’s Jewish Day School.

There is murder and then there is murder. The reasons and circumstances each man committed murder are completely different. However, the end results are the same — lives taken from their loved ones and families ruined.

Both men were upper middle class and professionally successful before they committed murder. One– a husband, father and doctor, the other a husband, father and businessman. How I look at people has been forever changed.

No Thanksgiving Homecoming For Jewish Prisoners

November 24, 2010

Notes from Director/Producer, Rhonda Moskowitz

I plan to spend a wonderful Thanksgiving with my family and feast on turkey with all the trimmings. It will be a day mixed with gratitude and also an undercurrent of sadness when I think about the Jewish prisoners I have filmed in the past, the incarcerated Jews I’m currently filming and their family members. I wrote the following two Thanksgivings ago, but it still holds true.(I’ve made a few changes.)

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, RETURN (TESHUVA)  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 and sisters.  We are our Brothers and Sisters Keepers. Jews who have committed crimes are human beings, as are their family members. It’s a few months past Yom Kippur, but I think about love, forgiveness and Teshuva everyday. Every person is capable of transformation and redemption. Every one.

Isolated Jewish Prisoner Receives Ray of Light

September 16, 2009

Note from director, Rhonda Moskowitz: 

The 24 year old  man we’re filming, Philip (Hebrew name Fivel), sent this blog at my request, and  writes with a great deal of heart and humanity. I’m committed to  giving him a voice before the film is released, where otherwise he would remain unheard. And what a voice he has!  He is one of the main people in my film, RETURN (TESHUVA).

Fivel’s Blog

Allow me to give a short geography lesson.  The location of my prison is in the middle of nowhere. The city is called Lake Butler, but I think over exaggeration had a hand in naming it– maybe Pond Butler, (lol).  Sorry, to the point:  In Pinellas County Jail I was  privy to Tefillin, kosher meals and weekly Torah service. None of the above are offered here. No Tefillin, not even a designated row in the chapel for prayer.

Okay, I made my bed. So independent study has been my method of spiritual renewal. I’ve had help from Rabbi Katz* (The Aleph Institute), my family, and another great rabbi, Rabbi Segal,** and I have been working diligently through Rabbi Segal’s publications (The Handbook For Jewish Spiritual Renewal and the Compendium to Talmudic and Ethical Torah Teachings.) Gentlemen and family, I thank you.  But I’ve had a long time without any physical conversation with someone like myself or a rabbi or any Jew for that matter.

Well about a month ago, I get called up to the officers station and they inform me that a chaplain ws here to see me.  I was not only shocked at the visit, but the reaction of who the visitor was, was in their eyes.

So, as I’m walking to the Visitor Park, I get interrogated by several officers about my religious beliefs; this in turn told me that a rabbi was here to see me.  When the staff was satisfied by my answers they permitted me into the Visitor Park. There stood a 21 year old post Yeshiva student ready to welcome me with smiles and open arms.

His name is Moshe Minsky and resides in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY. He was small in stature, large in enthusiasm. At one point of our hour visit, he wanted to dance like it ws Simchas Torah. The officer told him that “supervised” the visit was not so amused. Although I was.

We had a wonderful discussion, talking Midrashic tales and Talmudic thought comparison. And yes, he had Tefillin with him. Much to his delight I could put them on correctly and daven (pray) without assistance. He informed me that most of the Hews he’s seen didn’t have much of a clue how to dress them properly. He was happy, I was thrilled, and I wanted to thank him, Moshe Minsky, for dedicating his time and heart to warming up mine  in physical exile from my people.

On behalf of the Aleph Institute, I wanted to extend a deep thanks to Rabbi Menachem Katz for arranging the visit as well.

So everyone, thank you for listening and hopefully some of these heartwarming experiences to me can move the hearts of you all, too. If there are questions or any related words you wish to ask me, you are surely entitled to leave a comment.

As we approach the High Holidays, I eagerly ask you all to do some Chesbon Ha Nefesh (Inventory of the Soul) and look at how we can improve for next year. We are daily getting closer to Moschiach (the Messiah) coming, and only positively observed mitzvot  will hurry him along.  Thanks for your time. May HaShem (G-d) guide you in all your endeavors.

A special thanks to Rhonda Moskowitz, producer and director, for walking with me every step of this epic. I love you.

Mom, dad, Josh, Rachel, Kelly, connor, Dana and all the Osnos’s. I love you guys, too. The Merchant family as well.

My cousin, Martin, in Union Correctional, *** I love you, cuz.

My Beshert, Courtney, and my two wonderful children, Elijah and Camden. I love you so much, I swear and I promise.


Fivel (Philly)

Directors Notes:

* Rabbi Menachem Katz is in charge of sending rabbis and Yeshiva students into prisons throughout our nation to work with incarcerated Jews.  For many Jewish prisoners, the people sent by Rabbi Katz are the only contact they have with fellow Jews, as you just read in Philip’s case.

**   I came upon Rabbi Arthur Segal and his two Jewish Renewal books on the internet by happenstance. I thought Philip might benefit from them and e-mailed the rabbi. Rabbi Segal, out of the goodness of his heart, extended a helping hand. He arranged to send his two books to Philip in prison, at no charge, and is now working intensely with Philip, as a spiritual guide to help Philip lead a righteous life. Toda Raba to Rabbi Segal!  Check out his books.


May 29, 2009

From Director/Producer, Rhonda Moskowitz

The following is a wonderful blog about Shavuot, from Philip, (Hebrew name, Fivel), a young man in my documentary film in-progress, RETURN (TESHUVA).

Philip is currently incarcerated in prison, having recently been transferred from a county jail.

FIVEL THE LEVI — SHAVUOT BLOG            05-19-09


Fivel The Levi –

As we approach the 2nd of the major festivals, I hope your visits to the site are invigorating and continue to be enlightening. First, I would like to give a warm, “I love you,” to Rhonda, both my children, Elijah and Camden, my mother, Rosol, and wife, Courtney. Sorry I cannot celebrate the holiday physically with you, but spiritually I’m right next to you.

Shavout has some extraordinary meaning for me. The holiday celebrates the giving of the beloved Torah to the Israelites. Although Torah was taught through man prior to this event, Shavout commemorates G-d actually bestowing His word, Himself. Commonly referred to as “The greatest fireworks display in the history of the world,” the momentous event will never be duplicated again.

The Israelites were frozen in fear because of the awe-inspring power of HaShem (God). Even with the reassurances of the greatest prophet of all time, they still were terrified of the unparalleled power of the Almighty. The Jews finally knew (as if there wasn’t enough indication prior) that the Lord is mighty on high.

“We will do and we will listen” was the pledge of the Jewish people at the foot hills of Mt. Sinai. Our sages have compared this event to the marriage, union of G-d and the Israelites. We became His people and He became our G-d. The oneness of oneness.

No Jew could ever doubt the power of the Lord. Try and visualize Mount Sinai on fire as the Lord descended to deliver our everlasting Law and the pious Kohanim (Cohen.. Kohans or Kohanim are descendents of Moses’s brother, Aaron) as well as the other Jews falling to their knees to worship the holy oneness of Adonai (God). Very powerful.

This holiday is the time for us to visualize the wonderous teachings Our Father bestowed upon us. Showing us through that picture, it’s time to rededicate ourselves further to our Torah and our G-d. Only through every one of us sacrificing physical pleasures, and human interests, and devoting ourselves to HaShem (God), can we lift the Gates of Heaven and bring Moshiach (the Messiah).

So, be happy, truly, we have a G-d who truly loves us, so we can reciprocate that love by trying harder to study Torah and observe mitzvot (commandments in the Torah). Of course, HaShem thanks you on behalf of all the Children of Israel for the blessed Torah.

Happy Shavuot,

Fivel Ben Avraham (Philip Son of Abraham)


May 21, 2009

From Producer/Director, Rhonda Moskowitz

The following is a powerful blog written by 24 year old, Philip, (Hebrew name, Fivel), one of the people in my documentary film-in-process, now titled “RETURN (TESHUVA).” Philip sent this to me from a county jail dated February 8, 2009, to post on the blog. I’m still catching up from surgery on a broken arm, but I’m getting there. Stick with it to the end. It’ll be worth it.

“Fivel’s Blog From the Other Side:

Shalom alechem, (Hello everyone), peace be unto you all. I hope that the week’s events have not left anyone in distress. T’Shuvah (the Judaic concept of redemption) is a wonderful thing. I have conquered another wonderful step upon the proverbial ladder of Judaism this past week.

I have fulfilled the mitzvah (commandment) of Tefillin (small black leather boxes, paired with leather straps, that contain Bible verses written on parchment scrolls), for the first time since confirmation class over 9 years ago. Putting on the Phylactories (Tefillin) and chanting the blessings was absolutely exhilerating as well as moving.

They have tons of Christian-based programs that you can sign up for and attend rather easily here. Until last Tuesday, the Jewish program has been shielded from my eyes. Through diligent correspondence between myself and the chapel staff, I was finally made aware (despite over 60 hours a week offered in just my division of Pinellas County Jail) that there is in fact a Jewish Service in action, 1 hour a week, Wednesday afternoons 1:30 – 2:30 eastern standard time.

As you can imagine, I was super motivated even after finding out it was run by another inmate, (one who has been incarcerated for 3 years here awaiting trial). I attend, and instead of taking a pessimistic approach at the 5 other inmates out of 4,500, I’m pleased to be around my community.

The leader was knowledgeable. But other than him and myself you could easily tell that people were just trying to get out of their housing units for an hour. This again didn’t bother me. The leader asks if I know how to don the Tefillin. It quickly came back to me after an absence of 9 (nine) years. I grabbed the siddur (prayer book) and began with the blessings. A spiritual awakening, to say the least, came about inside of me. Just recalling the wonderful rapture brings goose bumps back to my person.

I don’t stop at the blessings and immediately go into the Shema (“Hear oh Israel, the Lord Our G-d, the Lord is One…) and I recite Deuteronomy Chapter 6: Verses 4 – 9  in perfect Hebrew, with the most focus and genuine melody, and by the time I finished and “came back to earth” (so-to-speak), I turned to see the other 5 men silent and listening to me davening (praying). One asks the leader, “What was that beautiful hymn?” The leader responds,
“Our holiest prayer in perfect Hebrew.”

The Torah portion that was read yesterday (Beshalach 5769) contained the powerful song sung by the Israelites after the parting of the Red Sea. Music is the divine language. Taking words and turning words to melody, forever lifting our souls to places without bars, chains or fences. Where there isn’t a force that could keep us incarcerated and through the prayer exhibited amongst five strangers. They, along with myself, were released to our own places of freedom, if only for moments.

So, what a coincidence, this week’s (Torah) portion shows true. That song and devotion can take you to a place of nirvana, a place of true spiritual freedom. Good things can come out of bad situations. God is truly merciful. He will never foresake his Children of Israel.

Well, until next time. I will pray for all of us. Rhonda, my mentor, friend and director, thank you for allowing me to develop my redemption through the power of the pen, you are truly wonderful. Blessings to my entire family from Rosol to Martin, Paul, Mosh, Elijah and Dana and, Courtney, and ours on the way. Rabbi Cutler, my heart goes to you and I know you were there with me during the Tefillin mitzvah. *

Until the pen reaches paper –

Fivel Ben Abraham (Philip Son of Abraham)

Shalom Alechem

* Director’s Note: Rabbi Cutler, who performed Philip’s Bar Mitzvah and who was also Phil’s spiritual advisor as a volunteer county jail chaplain, died unexpectedly last summer.

Blog #2 From a Jew in Jail

May 8, 2009

From Producer/Director, Rhonda Moskowitz

As I’ve previously written, I’m recovering from a badly broken right arm and subsequent surgery. While I’m on the mend, it’s still hard to type. I’m just now catching up on the writings from the county jail of one of the TESHUVA film’s main characters, an extraordinary young man named Philip, (Hebrew name, Fivel). I wrote to him to feel free to send me blogs to post.

The following is the second blog Phil sent me, dated January 31, 2009, from the county jail.

“Fivel’s Blog #2:

Hello faithful listeners, loyal subscribers, and the pit-stoppers. Shalom. I hope that spirits are high and the love of freedom is not taken for granted. Things can change drastically, very quickly. This entry comes from Central Booking, Pinellas County Jail, Florida. Unfortunately, this won’t be my last one.

First, my health is good and my faith is unwavering. Actually, maturing everyday… Knowledge and maturity are two very different things — especially in reference to Judaism.

My knowledge of Hebrew, holidays, traditions, prayers, blessings, etc. are vast and deep. But until now, I hadn’t really had a grasp of what I knew. To know things is good, but to understand and be able to interpret what you know, so you can fully utilize your potential, well that’s extremely wonderful.

Take caution not to succumb to lip-service prayer. Be truly devoted. And it’s easy enough when you take time to divulge all the spectacular pieces of religious wonders within the Torah.

These things are what’s important: The corners of the field, attending the sick, dowering the bride, the first fruits, early attendance at the school house, accompanying the deceased to the grave, devotion in prayer.

But the study of Torah exceeds them all. Incorporate the Torah, Talmud and all related subjects into daily life and you’re guaranteed not to slip.

Shalom Alechem, blessings to all the Children of Israel, my family, my son, Elijah, and my director (amongst other things), Rhonda.

Fivel Ben Avraham
(Philip Son of Abraham)”

Miracle Of Lights

December 26, 2008

Notes from Director/Rhonda Moskowitz:

I’m here as a guest at the house of Philip’s family, one of the family’s in our film, TESHUVA, in order to film the celebration of  Hanukkah, a holiday that commerates a light that was supposed to last for only one day that ended up lasting for eight. (This is an unusual circumstance in itself. Most filmmakers do not stay with their film subjects, but both the film and the people in it are unique.)

I can’t help but think now here is a family who has been through and is still going through such incredibly tough times that their light, metaphorically speaking, should have gone out a long time ago or at least have become dim. 

Two family members are incarcerated, (one is on Death Row), another has hepatitis C, and one household just lost their home due to foreclosure and has to move in one month.  This would crush the average person. But this family is far from average.

I’ve been staying at their house for four days, and their light is burning brightly…

Rosol, the matriarch,  is hosting her annual Hanukkah party with beautiful, hand crafted 50 year old decorations, and an expansive and breathtaking floor-to-ceiling wall of gifts that has to be seen to be believed. Rosol’s sister Myra, who lived here in Rosol’s household, passed away last April. This will be the first Hanukkah celebration without her.

I hope the family members who are incarcerated and whose light has dimmed, are inspired by Hanukkah to reach within themselves and let it shine. We all have a divine light inside of us, even if we’ve lost our way and have been in the dark. It is up to us to find it, nurture it  and to keep it burning brightly.

I know this family has, which under the circumstances, is a miracle.

Squandered Lives

December 9, 2008

Notes From Director, Rhonda Moskowitz


It breaks my heart to think that Martin, one the people in my film, has been sitting on Death Row for almost two and a half decades. When he was 19, he was a troubled young man on drugs and brutally took a life. My heart breaks for the victim’s family, (the young woman he murdered was only 26 years old), for the young woman’s life who was lost, for her unrealized potential, for Martin’s unrealized potential. Loved ones can never fully recover when someone takes a life. I’ve never met the victim’s family and can’t imagine their suffering, but I’m filming Martin’s family and they suffer a lot.


Martin’s mother, Myra,  died unexpectedly last spring. Death Row officials were going to allow Martin to attend her funeral, however Martin declined. Martin would have had to attend his mother’s funeral flanked by two armed guards with his wrists and ankles in shackles.  “I don’t want to be a trained bear on a leash,” he said. “I want my mother to have a funeral with dignity.”


This would have been the first time in decades Martin would have seen many of his family members. His mother’s funeral would also have helped him process his mother’s death. (She and her sister, Rosol, visited him on Death Row over the years.)  Interesting how you can find humanity in the souls of people who have committed unspeakable acts.


Martin’s first cousin, Philip, and  Dana, the mother of Philip’s three year old son, have great humanity and potential. They’re 20 years younger than Martin. I hope drug addiction doesn’t get the better of them.  I hope they, too,  don’t squander their lives.