The mattresses were thinner there, with dangerous gangs and no air conditioning. So why did he want to transfer back? Because at that first correctional facility, a rabbi would come in occasionally to learn with the inmates.

Many Jewish inmates feel abandoned by their families, synagogues, and communities. Prison can be a lonely place for them. The Jewish population is less than 1 percent of the total prison population. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, of righteous memory, requested that Jewish inmates should be visited specifically because they are neglected by the wider community. In response to this call, Aleph Institute created a summer program to ensure that every Jewish inmate is visited.

A team of volunteers provides nearly 4,000 Jewish men and women in hundreds of federal and state prisons across the country with Jewish experiences, education, and the comfort of knowing that they are never alone.

This year, 26 volunteers in 16 groups will travel through 43 states, covering about 130 federal prisons, 400 state prisons, and 10 county jails on a mission to reach as many Jewish inmates as possible.

When facing perhaps the most challenging of life’s conditions, spiritual connection and development is crucial. The love and concern expressed by these young visiting rabbis towards fellow Jews replaces the inmates’ feelings of isolation with belonging; their despair becomes hope. The organization also distributes thousands of prayer books, holy texts, and ritual materials, together with how-to videos.

“We met six Jewish inmates today; all of them put on tefillin. One had never done it before in his life!” reports one group, currently traveling through Texas. Moshe Luchins and Menachem Mendel Munitz describe a moving encounter along the Nevada route: “When putting on tefillin with one of the inmates, he started to cry but couldn’t wipe away his tears since his open hand was shackled.”

The feedback from inmates, often by old-fashioned pencil and paper sent in a stamped envelope, has been equally heartening to the organizers. This one came from someone visited by a group of bachurim traveling through Alabama and Mississippi:

“I just want to thank you so much for the yeshiva boys that came to visit. It really lifted my spirits to know that I have such wonderful people looking out for myself and the others. I learned something new from them and I appreciate that they took their time to come to the middle of nowhere.”

Rabbi Avraham Y. Zajac shares some of his thoughts as visitations coordinator: “As the coordinator, my job is in large part the nuts and bolts, but it’s the response and results that drive me. I have a chance to read the reports and feedback which is sometimes painful, sometimes inspiring, and mostly grateful. I know that through the volunteers my work is helping these ‘forgotten’ people connect, and it’s about bringing them the little light they need to persevere in the darkest places.”

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