Posts Tagged ‘Teshuvah’

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.

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)”

Hanukkah Letter From Jew on Death Row

January 13, 2009

Notes from Producer/Director, Rhonda Moskowitz


The following letter is written by Martin, one of the people in our film, a Jew who has been on Death Row for over 24 years. Martin’s mother, Myra, died unexpectedly in April, 2008. She visited her son, who was her only child, consistently over the decades with her sister, Rosol. Rosol has continued to visit Martin since her sister’s passing. This letter by Martin is written to his Aunt Rosol.


“Dear Tantellaski,                        Chanukkah Night

                                                   Feelin  (drawing of a sad face with tears)

Happy Chanukkah,


May this wacky letter find you all in great spirituality and healthfulness.


Really missin’ my mammalaski…


Thank you… for the unexpected $50.00 gelt,

And the book of cute holiday stamps.


Thank you…. for the love and wishes for Chanukkah.


Be forwarned, the other page enclosed was scribbled

during, shortly after my watching 2 Chanukkah specials on P.B.S. 

Please photocopy and give one to Rhonda for me. 
Maybe she’d want to include it in the documentary?


I’m outta here.

May the lord always be with, bless,

love and protect you always.


Love always,



 I have just been blessed to view two Chanukkah programs on P.B.S.


1) “A Chunukkah Celebration” hosted by the beautiful Fran Drescher.

2) “Lights Celebrate Hanukkah Live Concert 2008”


The following are some raw emotions during/after my viewing:

Being able to feel such sadness and heartache at one point during

Chanukkah –  or this is the first Chanukkah without my dear mother…

 and quite probably “my very last Chanukkah” due to my situation!

But to also feel such joy/pain, pride/regret, watching all of the beautiful

children and young adults singing the blessings – – 

I am overwhelmed by a wave of emotion,

my heart begins to swell, my throat tighten up,

and all of these damn cold tears stream down my cheeks

instantly I have been reduced to a blubbering mess.

Something so moving, so beautiful,

yet also so very painful and bittersweet

the absolute reality of my loneliness takes hold of me,

for the first time in 24 years I now feel its’ total being!

No one to share the miracle with —

No wife, No girlfriend, No children

No fellowship here in Death Row – i am all alone here amongst 300 + !

No candles to light, No menorah, No Dreidel to spin (the remants of my youth)

No latkes, g-d how i miss the latkes.

Please understand this is how i your brother in Judaism must endure

I am but an island of Judaism here,

self supporting, self reliant, steadfast in my beliefs, observances.

Lord I long for my own maccabean miracle,

surviving in my existence for over 24 years and counting, quite a feat,

(Insert:  Unable to read this line)

Instantly I have been reduced to a blubbering mess.

Something so moving, so beautiful,

Yet also oh so very painful and bittersweet

The absolute reality of my loneliness takes hold of me,

For the first time in 24 years I now feel its’ total being!

No one to share the miracle with –

No wife, No Girlfriend, No Children,

No fellowship here in Death Row – I am all alone here amongst 300 + !

No latkes, g-d how i miss the latkes.

Please understand this is how i your brother in Judaism must endure …

I am, but an island of Judaism here,

Self supporting, self reliant, steadfast in my beliefs, observances.

Lord I long for my own maccabean miracle,

Surviving in my existence for over 24 years and counting, quite a feat

g-d willing I might still have more survival aspects to mount.


                                                       Martin Edward Grossman #A089742


                                                           On Chanukkah Kislev  25.  5769.”




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.