Yom Kippur yearround for inmates

A visitor walks along the prison cells of to-be-demolished Malaysia's historical Pudu Jail in Kuala Lumpur June 22, 2010. The demolition of the 115-year-old Pudu Jail began late Monday to make way for a future development project. The Victorian-era jail was built in 1895 and officially closed in 1996. The government will build a mixed development project which will accommodate a transit centre, serviced apartments, offices, recreation centres, a hotel and business space, as reported by the official Bernama news agency. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad (MALAYSIA - Tags: SOCIETY)

No, we didn't forget about Yom Kippur, though I may need to atone for the tardiness. What is Yom Kippur? It's the holiest day of the Jewish year. (Actually, the holiest day is Shabbat, and it comes but 52.5 times per year. But Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, marks the height of the High Holidays. Thus, it really deserves a good story.

But as I mentioned last year around Yom Kippur, it's difficult to come up with a new story for a holiday that has already appeared on a calendar some 5,000 times. (Quick fact-check please.) Still, journalists need to try. It worked with Ramadan football stars, right?

And it works with this story that the Los Angeles Times' Mitchell Landsberg -- Mazel Tov! -- wrote about the act of atonement for Jewish prisoners. Here's a snippet focusing on Rabbi Yossi Carron, the head Jewish chaplain for the LA County jail system:

To many people, the very idea of Jews in jail is somehow surprising. "If I had a dollar for every time someone said, 'You mean there are Jews in jail?' " Carron said. "Yes, there are Jews in jail, and no, they aren't all [for] white collar crimes."

Although Yom Kippur will officially be over, Carron will hold special services next week for inmates at the Men's Central Jail and at Corcoran State Prison in the San Joaquin Valley, the institutions he visits weekly as a chaplain. He estimates that there are 75 to 100 Jewish inmates at any given time in the Los Angeles County Jail system, and about 50 in the main yard of Corcoran.

This story reminds me of a very similar one that I wrote when I was at the LA Daily News. (In fact, this Day of Atonement angle gets around.) The peg for that story was also Yom Kippur, but instead of talking to Jewish inmates I davened with Jewish addicts, which may be even more taboo than being a crook. Here's a snippet:

But for the 120 men and women at Beit T'Shuvah, or the House of Return, t'shuvah is a yearlong act. These Jews are repenting day after day of their sins and repairing relationships with their friends, family and God.

"Addicts are people who are seekers. If you look on a bottle of whiskey, a lot of them say 'distilled spirits.' Drug addicts, a lot of them go to their connection to get a 'fix.' It's really a spiritual language," said Rabbi Mark Borovitz, the center's spiritual leader. "So we give them the way to God, to their spirit, to their soul, without ever having to get loaded again."

It's about more than just a holiday or 12 steps. It's about returning to God. Teshuvah. And the LA Times piece conveys that.

Landsberg, who has drawn a bit of flak at this here blog, goes on to do a good job describing the Jewish concept of sin and the path to spiritual healing for Jews who have done that which nice Jewish boy's don't do.

He misses the opportunity to explain the strain of Judaism that shapes Carron's perspective, and that is important. Based on the Web site for his synagogue in Ojai, I'd guess that Carron is part of Judaism's post-denominational movement. But, all in all, I'd say this is a pretty darn good story.

You could even call it a journalistic act of teshuvah.

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