And if I must blogger say, I have been to a few of those March to Shut Down Rikers Island protests the past few months in that city of New York. As Rikers Island is ranked as one of the ten worst prisons in America, and yet it’s still open for business. And I have even found myself visiting a friend who is an inmate at Rikers Island Correctional Facility the past few months as well, his blog, Orange Lives Matter, is about his time incarcerated at Rikers Island that is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. And so with this Rikers Island inmates invites I found myself at a Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Rikers Island Sukkot party. And then a couple of months later, at a Rikers Island Chanukah party, both of these parties being at a gym with what seems like more guards in attendance than prisoners, the first party with the inmates relative, and the second party with the inmates friends, as each inmate was allowed to invite two guests, though it seemed to be a practice where inmates would invite six guests or more using other inmates names who did not have guests. And what a party these parties were indeed for me to see, kind of like one of those over the top and out of control, well sort of out of control, Bar Mitzvah’s, with good food, challah bread, grape juice, potato latkes, gefilte fish, traditional donuts, visiting a sukkah hut, Rabbi greetings and speeches, the coolest Jewish bands and comedian and magician performers with menorah candles and doves one could ever see and lots of really cool dancing, and even one inmate doing gymnastic flips at the Hanukkah party and another inmate playing the drums at the Sukkot party, with Jewish members that I think were from Chabad Lubavitch HQ, and prisoners dancing together and one guard, or corrections officers as you can call them, declining an invitation to join the dancing for whatever reason, and then what seemed like this big gigantic plastic cartoony blow up air balloon dancing Jewish guy complete with one of those Jewish top hats and top coats who came out to dance with everyone, what a sight that was, never saw one of those dancing blow up air balloon characters before, probably the closest I’ll ever get to a Jewish high holiday service. And thank you Lubavitch Youth Organization, at least that’s the name on those really cool experience the High Holidays, Sept 13 – Oct 6, 2015, Tishrel 5776 and experience Chanukah Dec 6 – 14, 2015, 25 Kislev – 2 Tevet, 5776 brochures written in Hebrew and English, that were left on those prison dining tables after the party ended, thank you for this party. Though I was told that prisoners conveniently change their religion depending on what party it is at Rikers Island, either Islam for Ramadan parties or Jewish for Jewish holiday parties or both, for a three hour visit for those with guests.
And a friend described this Chanukah party on her Facebook page as:
“A Channukah party at Rikers island (a few of us were visiting a friend) turned out to be a beautiful experience ~ a man kissing his children as they arrived, the camaraderie between observant Jewish prisoners and those that had come for the occasion, Jewish synthesizer band and magician, which somehow looked cool together ..
My uninhibited friends, one in prison and one outside, leading the dances in the men’s circle; the women visitors dancing; the women prisoners holding each other separately for the dance, and staying at their own table – they were invited to join, but the female prisoners seemed to bond with one another, while the visitors were feeling joy to reunite with their families on this relatively happy occasion – the rabbi talked about the Hebrew word for redemption, and one hasn’t lived till one has heard Hebrew covers of “Down Under.”
In the meantime, I did listen to some inmates’ stories, one man who’d been arrested in several middle eastern countries – for political protests, for throwing rocks at police who were beating up Israelis, for stealing camels to sell rides to tourists, for renting cheap rooms while robbing the occupants, and, in the US, credit card fraud, a man who said that he wished he could be a soldier so that he could fight for a cause – he would still be of age to join the Israeli army if he converted, and he said “I’m there” – he was in jail for rigging MTA card machines and stealing people’s cash – and, a young man who talked about his childhood pet bunny rabbit, and about how stealing a cell phone with his friends when he was 16 had turned into being pulled over seven years later in Texas; the warrant was found and he was serving time nine years later – he said that nobody had visited him, because everybody he knew lived in Texas, but that he would be released in April – my friend who is in there, unfortunately, said that what he is getting from the experience was that he “should’ve been sneakier” (he isn’t really the sneaky type), and the man who’s been arrested in several countries, while he was a gentleman to me, said, “in prison you have to be a savage in order to survive.”
Though what a drama this Chanukah party was for me indeed.
And we all departed as we all came, some prisoners from Manhattan Detention Complex as well, in lines of prison jumpsuits and visitors, in lines of I guess you can call it, civilian clothing, separated by numbers.
No one is free when others are oppressed. Is another world possible. Peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind. Blessings.