Rabbis spend Rosh Hashanah at San Pedro prison, leading services for Jewish inmates

Volunteer rabbis are venturing into prisons to share the Jewish spirit of renewal with inmates.

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Saturday, September 16, 2023
Rosh Hashanah: Rabbis lead services for Jewish inmates in SoCal prison
The Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah will be observed this weekend and volunteer rabbis are venturing into prisons to share the Jewish spirit of renewal with inmates.

SAN PEDRO, Calif. (KABC) -- Isser Brickman and Shmuel Reichik aren't celebrating Rosh Hashanah with their families.

Instead, they're observing the Jewish New Year at Terminal Island federal prison in San Pedro, leading services for 20 Jewish inmates.

"My family really wants me to be with them, and I want to, but they understand that part of Judaism is not just taking, but also giving, and that's what we're all here for," said Brickman. "I'm happy to do it."

Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Friday and is celebrated through nightfall on Sunday.

"Even though they're in this unfortunate place, they're not forgotten by the Jewish people," said Reichik of the inmates. "People still care about them, people still want to bring them hope and courage."

Spending the holiday at Terminal Island isn't the only thing Brickman and Reichik are doing for the first time. They are also renting an RV, which they will park on prison grounds and sleep in through Sunday.

Due to the customs of Orthodox Judaism and because Rosh Hashanah falls on the Sabbath, they cannot travel to and from the prison.

The program is coordinated by The Aleph Institute, which provides social services to Jewish families in crisis.

"Even people that are in prison, they feel lost and hopeless. To give them a bit of hope and say, 'There's always another chance. Whenever you stumble, you always can get back up. Your challenges and struggles make you stronger,' and to let them lean into that and start a new year with a new page," said Brickman.

Reichik said Rosh Hashanah is the best time to rejuvenate and renew your connection to God. The Aleph Institute isn't just sending volunteer rabbis to Terminal Island, but it's also sending volunteers to 15 other prisons across the country.

It's something the organization has been doing since 1981.

Without Brickman and Reichik - who are both studying to be rabbis - the 20 inmates wouldn't have the opportunity to hear the shofar and celebrate Rosh Hashanah.