Rosh Hashanah in Prison: TBS Helps Collect Jewish Books, Funds for Meals

By Mary Klaus

Temple Beth Shalom members are helping their rabbi brighten Rosh Hashanah for Jewish inmates at the State Correctional Institute in Camp Hill.

The congregation is assisting Rabbi Carl Choper by collecting Jewish books, as well as funds to mail the books and to pay for Rosh Hashanah meals for Jewish inmates. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts at sundown September 6 and concludes September 8.

“Because Jewish inmates are usually highly isolated from other Jews, they need to have access to things that can provide them with the teachings and guidance to create Jewish life on their own,” said Rabbi Choper, spiritual leader at Temple Beth Shalom and Jewish chaplain at the State Correctional Institute in Camp Hill for twelve years.

“The books themselves cannot take up very much space,” he said, “because they have very limited space for personal belongings.”

Ideally, books given to the prisoners should describe what it means to be Jewish, explain what different Jewish practices and holidays mean, and instruct how to observe practices and holidays, the rabbi said. He suggested that community members send Jewish prayer books and books which introduce Judaism, feature Jewish wisdom and values, and through the telling of stories, convey a picture of what it is like to live as part of the Jewish community.

His other suggestions include books which:

  • describe the Mussar tradition (spiritual and ethical development)
  • help people teach themselves Hebrew
  • present the entire Torah divided by weekly section and accompanied by weekly Haftorot (readings from the prophets) with commentary. These are known as Chumashim
  • are Tanakh, Hebrew Bibles (with commentary is best)
  • are Pirkei Avot (chapters of the Fathers) or other accessible rabbinic literature that provide guidance and insight on how to be a mensch
  • include collections of Divrei Torah and derashes on the Torah portion or on holiday seasons

Rabbi Choper recommends books which have “a lot of content, convey a lot of ideas, and don’t take up a lot of space.” He said that a Chumash provides hours and days of study. He also recommended Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and books of Jewish thought by Abraham Joshua Heschel.

For security reasons, the books have to be sent in via U.S. mail so that they can be inspected by officials. Temple Beth Shalom will use donations to help pay for the mailing of the books as well as to provide the Rosh Hashanah meals.

SCI Camp Hill offers religious services to those who want them, including weekly Jewish studies and a Shabbat service.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Please send donations to Temple Beth Shalom at P.O. 346, Mechanicsburg Pa 17055-0346.