Posts Tagged ‘Jews Behind Bars’

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.