The names read like something out of a movie script. Sing Sing, Attica, Allenwood., medium security jails and Federal penitentiaries. To the New York Dept of Corrections, these are the approximately 50 prison facilities throughout the state, but to Rabbi Kasriel Kastel, director of programming at the Lubavitch Youth Organization, these prisons are outreach opportunities.
Last Monday, when President Bush issued the most severe terror alert code orange since September 11th, the rabbi, unlike most Americans was personally affected. It was the second day of Chanukah and Kastel had organized a caravan of dozens of volunteer student rabbis to fan out across the state and visit every prison and every Jewish prisoner in New York. He knew from experience that the terror alert meant no volunteers would be admitted into any correctional facility and he was determined that the Jewish inmates would not be deprived of their Chanukah celebration.
Kastel immediately got in touch with his volunteer prison coordinator and asked him to contact Glen Goord, the New York State Commissioner for the Dept of Corrections. The Commissioner had already dealt with the Lubavitch volunteers during a past terror alert which happened to coincide with the holiday of Purim and he remembered their perseverance and dedication.
This time the commissioner was one step ahead of the rabbi. “Don’t worry’ he said, “I’ve already sent out an e mail to all the prison officials. All pre-approved volunteers will get in and the Lubavitch Youth Organization is at the top of the list.”
“I was tremendously relieved and pleased,” said Kastel. “The Chanukah program is eagerly anticipated by all of the Jewish inmates. We bring menorahs and candles, dreidels, and best of all…good kosher food for a truly traditional Chanukah party.
One inmate, when told of the terror threat said, “I’m really glad they were able to get in. When Lubavitch comes, they do whatever it takes to make sure we have a real Jewish experience.”