Two weeks ago there was a big model Passover Seder at the Corona Women’s Prison. I was also honored on that occasion for my seven years of volunteering there. I was very touched to see about 150 people from the larger Jewish community in the area, family and friends present in the big prison’s auditorium.
Many of you were there. I thank you from the deepest part of my heart for being the witnesses to one of the most Magical Days of my life. A day I experienced God’s miracle and enchanted miracle in the world.
First Rabbi Moshe Halfon & Eli Lester were chanted many parts of the Haggadah, while inmates choir were helping them. Then, we had a hot catered Kosher lunch. Shortly after that, some inmates I counsel and teach got up and shared some sweet words about me. My heart was filled with deep gratitude and I cried… I thanked the audience and spoke to the women about hope and never loosing their dreams.
Many of you have asked me to share my speech I delivered on that day. The following is a part of it:
Before I say anything, I would like to thank the people who made this event happen. PLEASE just look around you. It takes many months to plan this event. It takes many people to make all this happen. Please remember what it took for most of you just to get approved to enter the prison, get your reservations in for the food, having to remember the rules and regulations of your clothing and what you are allowed to bring into the prison area and what you are not allowed. Just look at the smallest details on your tables, or the decorations, and know that it is very special and the women devoted many hours to it.
I would like very much for all the people who had a hand in making this very SPECIAL event come true to please stand up.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is just one example of the many people it takes to coordinate this event, to make "The Impossible Dream" come true! Toda Rabbah. Thank you VERY much.
The mission of each of us who volunteers here; each of us who are here with Rab Moshe, is to be like… a true knight. We do it with love, and personal duty. We do it out of sense of responsibility. We do it out of a sense of accountability. Each of us volunteers are here, because we are COMMITTED to our Jewish ladies! We are committed NOT TO FORGET our Jewish sisters who “missed the mark” and slipped off the road of their lives. Please know dear ladies, that this prison,God willing, is ONLY a temporary place.
Yes, now, as you well know, you are in MITZRAIM, in Egypt. We understand Mitzraim to be a “Narrow Place. A place where misery dwells.” But you are not alone. We the volunteers are coming to Mitzraim on our own free will, in order to: Support you. Support you like a parent to his/her child.
We the volunteers are coming to Mitzraim on our own free will, in order to sustain you emotionally and spiritually, like God’s angels. We are here to carry you through this MITZRAIM as an eagle carries it eaglets. Therefore, I would like you to know that volunteering here is NEVER a burden… it is a great privilege and honor. For me, I feel, that more than I give to you (Torah, Talmud, Mishnah, Song of Songs, Holidays, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, etc.) you give to me. I love you.
I have lived nearly 65 years, and I have seen life as it is. At times life is wonderful, and at times life is miserable. I have heard the singing from concert halls, and the moans from the filthy streets of India. I have been a soldier and experienced my friends fall in battle.
At times, when life just gets the best of us, we ask, “Why?” We ask, “Why does life seem at times so crazy? Why is the world filled with so much insanity and pain? I do not know the answers - they are far too difficult and complicated to try to figure them out. But…my ladies…
· Do not surrender your dreams! To surrender your dreams is to seek slow death - this is NOT Jewish.
· To seek treasure where there is only trash - is Jewish.
· To seek sanity where there is only madness - is Jewish.
· To be a good human being where only evil exist -is Jewish.
· To be kind where there is no kindness - is Jewish.
· To be moral where there is no morality - is Jewish.
· To seek the tiniest light where there is only darkness - is Jewish.
· To have and keep hope when one is chained - is Jewish.
My dear ladies, please treasure your hopes and dreams, NEVER give them up!
For our beautiful grand finale, I asked Ahavat Torah’s Cantorial Soloist Gary Levine to sing, “To Dream the Impossible Dream” from the musical, The Man of La Mancha.
Gary was amazing! When he sang this tremendous song, he filled the huge auditorium with his fantastic voice. The walls were trembling. There was no dry eye in the room, including the tough guards. THANK YOU GARY.
LETTERS RECEIVED AFTER THE EVENT
Thank you in advance for your devotion to the women of B’ not Or. (Daughters of Light). What you missed and would have really appreciated was Rabbi Hamrell's speech to the assembled group. It was a very powerful talk about the journey of the inmates on the one hand, and about why our volunteers do what they do. I will get a copy of it (on computer) to share with you and the Administration. It also speaks a great deal about the unique Jewish spirit and our tradition's approach to incarceration, healing, hope, and recovery, which I think the Administration might appreciate. Lynda Malerstein
Our AT members who had never been to the prison before were really moved as were those of us who had been out there before. B'shalom, v'brahot, v'ahava - Judy Kollack
Last night as I fell asleep the events of the day at the prison rocked me to sleep. The women are so holy and so much of it thanks the you, Rabbi Miriam - all of you and what you have brought to these women who indeed have found liberation within the walls. I felt like the whole reason I came out besides talking to the women who train the dogs - was to dance with the blonde lady. We never touched but our contact was very deep. In entering into an ecstatic state. Yes, I am ready to come out and share dance with the women -It can be Jewish women or anyone who wants to find connection in the spirit of the dance. - Paulette Rochelle-Levy
My heart is filled with love and gratitude for the wonderful experience of being at the California Institute for Women's Passover Seder, along with many of our AT members. Our own Rabbi Miriam was honored for her Torah teachings and support for the women in prison for the past 7 years. Many of the inmates gave their personal testimony for her support to them. It truly was a rich experience filled with love, joy and music. - Bernice Brown
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.