Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

AFTERMATH OF THE EXECUTION OF A JEW

October 10, 2012

Notes from Director/Producer, Rhonda Moskowitz

This is the 4th in a series of essays about Martin Grossman, in preparation for my presentation at LeMood, Montreal.

I originally wrote the essay below soon after the execution of Martin Grossman. His execution was a profound experience that forever changed me. I had filmed Martin four times on death row over two years and also his surviving family members. I stayed with his family before, during and after his execution and slept in the bed of his late mother, Myra. An intense experience at the very least. People on death row and executions are something you read about or see in movies. A human face was put on a decades-long tragedy of epic proportions.

Aunt Rosol, Martin Grossman’s closest surviving relative

May, 2010

It’s been a little more than three months since Martin Grossman’s Feb. 16th execution. His last words were “Ahavat Israel,” meaning love of Jews.  Before Martin uttered these words, he recited the Shema, the watchword prayer of the Jewish faith. (Here O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one…”)   It’s traditional for a Jew to say the Shema  before he or she dies. How many Jews have uttered these words before they’ve been executed? This is unknown. It’s also unknown how many Jews in the United States  have been executed. I presume the numbers are few. Martin had a deep feeling for Judaism. He reconnected with his faith after ten years of virtual isolation in his 6 by 9 death row cell.  “I am an island of Judaism,” he wrote in a letter to his aunt, Rosol, during Hanukkah in 2008, 14 months before he died. Grief, emptiness, disbelief and depression, pretty much describe my feelings about Martin’s execution over these last few months. If I feel traumatized, it’s almost unimaginable how both Martin’s family and the family of his victim, Peggy Park, feel.  I speak to Martin’s aunt, Rosol, several times a week and I know she feels indescribably horrible. Rosol never turned her back on Martin and wrote to him and visited him on Death Row up until the day he died. I don’t know how Peggy Park’s mother and brother feel. (Her father died.)  Do they feel a sense of justice and closure? Or do they feel empty? Martin’s execution did not bring Peggy Park back. From news accounts, Peggy’s mother and brother had been waiting for over 26 years for Martin to be executed. I personally don’t believe in the death penalty, but if there is going to be a state sanctioned murder of a murderer, it should be swift. As a filmmaker, I now have the challenge of documenting Martin’s redemption, (Teshuva), and showing his humanity without sanitizing the tragic murder he committed. It’s now time to get past my grief and move forward. I didn’t know how much my documentary film meant to Martin until I read letters received by others. Seems like he intrinsinctly knew he had a lot to teach us. Paradoxically and astonishingly,  Martin, a murderer, died a Ba’al Teshuva. I’ve been given a monumental task, but I’m up to the challenge. I filmed Martin on Death Row four times, I’ve filmed his family for two years, and I have home movies from his childhood, newspaper articles and photographs. I also had the honor of filming Martin’s funeral and burial. I still need to document the tremendous advocacy efforts to save Martin’s life.  It’s  through my film, that Martin’s voice will be heard. He has a great deal to teach both Jews and non-Jews and the lessons are life-altering and profound.

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THE DAY I WATCHED A MAN DIE

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 http://www.savemartingrossman.com. 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 Chabad.org’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.

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.

Shalom,

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.

From a Jew in the Depths of Exile in Prison

August 24, 2009

The following blog is written by Philip, (Fivel),  a young, 24 year old man in my doc-in-progress, RETURN (TESHUVA) . Philip sent this blog from his prison  for me, director Rhonda Moskowitz, to post. (I wrote to him to feel free to send me blogs.)

By Fivel Ben Avraham — 

Hello again to my friends and welcome to this site. “First timers” hope that you enjoy and return, and faithful returnees, it’s good to have you come.

I’ve been in prison now for 5 months. Adjustment has been completed and now time is left.  I have 58 more months left. (Well I guess I did a little better than Joseph.)

Galuth (exile). Exile is something that is hard to come to grips with when you truly realize the depth of your situation. Not only am I away from my family, Courtney (my Beshert), my two children, Elijah and Camden, but I’m away from my community, my heritage, and my people. 

Out of 420 inmates at my current “residence,” I’m the only Jewish one. What type of service could I offer to my people in such galuth?  The Talmudic sages say that “we were cast all over the world to spread “Ahavat Chesed” (Acts of Loving Kindness), and to bring the world closer to Redemption.

We as Jews have to set examples of how to live. In the Ethics of Fathers, (Chapter 2 Verse 5), Rabbi Hillel says, “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man!” The very breath of our existence and the path to Olam Haba, (the World to Come), is loving God with all your heart, soul and might, and loving your fellow man as you love your self. (Deuteronomy Chapt. 6, Verse 4; Leviticus Chapt. 9, Verse 18)

So, how does this relate to my galuth?  I believe I was exiled to not only find Hashem, (G-d), live righteously, and improve myself drastically, but also help others on the path of their own individual Teshuvahs (Return). We are all scattered to the four corners of the earth to rectify hate, depression and spiritual death. Only when we all strive with our entire beings to help our fellow man and live upright will our preceding prayer to the Shema be answered.

We are in the month of Elul. It’s time to study more, work on our vices and help-out more.  So with that being said, may the Lord gather our dispersed from the four corners of the earth and grant each of us our portion in the wondrous land that He has bestowed upon us.

BLOG #4 FROM PHILIP – A JEW, NOW IN PRISON — A BLOG ABOUT SHAVUOT

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

SHAVUOT — RECEIVING THE MOST PRECIOUS GIFT OF ALL TIME

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)

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.

WHO ARE YOU?

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.

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