Pris­on­ers face lone­li­ness and the oc­ca­sional short­age of matzah

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY RABBI MICHAEL BIN­STOCK

ISO­LA­TION, LONE­LI­NESS, and the odd short­age of matzah — these are some of the prob­lems fac­ing Jews in jails across the UK.

In gen­eral, the needs of Jewish pris­on­ers are met ex­tremely well. Kashrut-ob­ser­vant in­mates re­ceive kosher meals, which are de­liv­ered in a fully cooked and frozen state, and just need to be heated be­fore they are served.

Due to the low num­bers of Jewish pris­on­ers, it would be quite im­prac­ti­cal to es­tab­lish kosher kitchens in pris­ons.

This can oc­ca­sion­ally present prob­lems, for ex­am­ple when pris­on­ers are given the same meal for sev­eral days in a row be­cause the kitchen as­sis­tants just pulled out the first one they reached from the freezer.

A more se­ri­ous is­sue, al­beit in­fre­quent, oc­curs when stocks of kosher meals run out be­fore the next de­liv­ery ar­rives.

The re­li­gious needs of strictly Ortho­dox Jews are met to a com­mend­ably high level. This even in­cludes au­tho­ri­sa­tion for the erec­tion of a Suc­cah.

In gen­eral, the prison cater­ing man­agers are ex­tremely help­ful and sup­port­ive, and do their best for all pris­on­ers in tak­ing ac­count of their vary­ing med­i­cal and re­li­gious needs. How­ever, they are not al­ways on duty and have to del­e­gate.

This some­times re­sults in in­struc­tions not be­ing im­ple­mented. For ex­am­ple, at one of the pris­ons this year, on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish pris­on­ers re­ceived honey on the first two nights, but no ap­ples.

A far more se­ri­ous prob­lem oc­curred two years ago on Pe­sach when no matzah ar­rived at one prison, and its cater­ing man­ager, try­ing to be help­ful, sub­sti­tuted them with cream crack­ers.

This was a dis­as­trous sit­u­a­tion that was not re­solved un­til half­way through the fes­ti­val.

These are the kinds of prob­lems that can arise be­cause Jews are so few in num­ber and un­like other faith tra­di­tions who have full-time chap­lains, we Jewish chap­lains are very much part-time.

A ques­tion that is fre­quently asked is whether Jews suf­fer dis­crim­i­na­tion and an­ti­semitism.

While of course in­ci­dents some­times do oc­cur, they are rarely se­ri­ous, par­tic­u­larly bear­ing in mind that ten­sions in pris­ons are gen­er­ally high.

How­ever, strong ac­tion is usu­ally taken when­ever these prob­lems sur­face.

Given the high num­bers of Mus­lims in many pris­ons, there are oc­ca­sions when things get un­com­fort­able, par­tic­u­larly when Is­rael is in the news — for ex­am­ple, dur­ing last sum­mer’s mil­i­tary ac­tion in Gaza.

For­tu­nately, how­ever, Mus­lims and Jews gen­er­ally get on well to­gether as they do with those of other faiths and those of no faith, be­cause ul­ti­mately, they un­der­stand it is in their own in­ter­est to do so.

In gen­eral, the needs of Jewish pris­on­ers are met ex­tremely well

Rabbi Bin­stock is di­rec­tor of Jewish Prison Chap­laincy. He leads a team of around 40 rab­bis min­is­ter­ing to Jewish in­mates


Pen­tonville Prison, Lon­don

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