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Sunlight through the Bars

Malkie Schulman

Prison life is harsh. Especially if you’re a woman. Especially if you’re Jewish. As we approach the Yom Tov of freedom, we spoke with a group of frum women who have reached out to these inmates, providing a ray of light in a bleak world.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

“One day a few years ago, my sister-in-law schlepped me with her to visit Jewish prisoners in an all-female maximum security prison in upstate New York,” shares Mrs. Chana Rivka Greenfield from Monsey. “From then on, I was hooked.” Like Chana Rivka, most people who perform this special and often neglected mitzvah just stumble into it. They often explain their involvement with something like, “I got a call one day from my rebbetzin asking if I wanted to go, and not being able to refuse her, I went.” But once the women see the impact of their visits — on the prisoners’ lives as well as their own — they become passionate about the cause. “We were told our visits fulfill the mitzvah of matir assurim (releasing the imprisoned),” saysMrs.SussieBrecher, who is part of a devoted group of visitors to this prison. Most of the women are middle-aged, ranging from chassidic to yeshivish, from the area surrounding Monsey,Monroe, and New Square. Sussie recalls her first time at the facility, where only eight of the 850 inmates are known to be Jewish. “I was asked who I was there to visit. I knew nobody so I simply picked the most Jewish-sounding name,” she remembers. “In walked a beautiful, sweet, young Orthodox woman with a scarf on her head. I still remember that day. When I left the prison, it was raining and my tears mingled with the rain.”

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