Rabbi Vogel Blog

Updated news at Aleph Institute

You will find news and information of the many programs being offered at Aleph Institute.

The Aleph Institute provides many programs for those incarcerated, their families and re-entry programs.

In addition in 2013 the Aleph Institute opened the Shifra Program, which provides resources and support benefiting many families in the Jewish community in Pittsburgh.

As you browse this blog you will become familiar with these programs.

Prisoner Unfit for Trial

We see regularly individuals who should not be incarcerated in the county jails, ending up there for long periods of time due to a system breakdown. 

Dvar Torah


In this week’s Torah Portion ‘Chukas’ we are told of the passing of Miriam, through whose merits the well of water which brought sustenance to the Jewish people – hence the name ‘Miriams well’ – ended with her passing.

The Torah continues that Moshe (Moses) seeing that there was no much needed water, took it on himself to pursue that issue as the Jewish people needed water.

The Rabbis teach us, that although Moshe had his primary work cut out – as the leader of the Jewish people he had his work cut out – however, if there was a need not being met i.e. there was no water it was his responsibility.

At Aleph Institute we meet the needs of water and shelter daily for those… Read More »

KOI program

On Sunday July 22 the KOI group took another trip to PNC Park.    The attendees were not only the kids but the parents too.  They were able to relax and enjoy a day at a ballgame.  People who had never met before, understood no matter what they have been through it was a new beginning.  I was able to look around at the group and see people talking and laughing, just being able to have fun.

Prior to the game a friend was able to provide hotdogs, chips and bottled water for everyone.  Then before going into the stadium they were given their tickets and more water to keep hydrated.

After the game was over there were about 15 from our group who stood around giving each other hugs.  They did not care… Read More »


Jimmy just left my office! And what a scary story!

I see a lot of ex inmates, people who have committed various crimes, people who are accused of committing various crimes and people who made mistakes which crossed into the criminal realm and have had to face the music.

But Jimmy’s story takes the cake.

Jimmy was referred to me by Rabbi Eli Siedman, who said Jimmy had a run in with the law twenty five years ago, and has had a problem finding a job! I offered to meet with him, and Jimmy was in my office two hours later.

Jimmy suffers from severe bi-polar and is mentally challenged, a hundred years ago he would have been a easy candidate for one of the state hospitals, however in today’s society given the right support there… Read More »

Ban the Box

I was interviewed by Essential Public Radio (NPR affiliate) yesterday with regards to ‘Ban the Box’ (, the issue is crucial.

At Aleph our programs include helping those who get out of prison finding employment, without employment there can be no rehabilitation, in addition to allowing the individual to being able to pay his or her bills they have to be able to hold their head high, being a productive member in the community requires the individual to work and be able to live life as we know.

The government has to do more with reducing the liability exposure for employers. Expungement of criminal past should be more available and to a broader population… Read More »

Change coming to PA prisons and probation!

Prison in Pa after decades of growing are now hopefully going to be turning the tide, currently there are over 58,000 men and women in the state’s prisons, however due to the rising costs (over $74,000.00 a year to house those in the geriatric prison). Pennsylvania (both sides of the aisle) is now ready to change the way business has been done, it’s time to emphasize less the punishment and more the rehabilitation.

We at Aleph Institute, with over twenty years of working with this population, maintain that the focus has to be on rehabilitation, and that means working with the individual on case by case basis, holding their hands.

We work with the individual helping them with productive employment, housing, medical help… Read More »

10 years for theft of meat worth $80

Just another case where someone is incarcerated for a ridiculously long time, here this individual is not a threat to society.

Prison has become the easiest solution for all ills of society, at a terrible cost to the taxpayers and a great cost to the family of those incarcerated. The long term damage created by incarceration is incalculable the affects are for generations.

 This individual and society would be so much better off if he was sent for evaluation and ordered to partake in programs at a local faith based agency. He needs counseling and support.

The story is told of someone who came to the Rabbi and asked if it was permissible to use milk as a substitute for the four cups of wine on Passover, the Rabbi went and delivered… Read More »

Guidelines revisited


The Post Gazette reports today that the state is revisiting the whole sentencing guidelines and incarceration frenzy there has been for the last twenty or so years.

The Aleph Institute and other faith based agencies have a proven successful track record of lowering recidivism. This success rate is documented and recognized by the prison officials nationwide.

The courts should be encouraged and required to work with the community based agencies, as an alternative to imprisonment, or in more severe cases together with imprisonment.

Besides being financially more effective alternatives to imprisonment provide necessary rehabilitation of the individual, helping them become productive members of society. In addition it does not have… Read More »

Job Search

Our re-entry programs help ex-inmates daily get jobs and ease the return to society, with the help of businesses (like the Used Appliance Warehouse on the Southside) who partner with us in providing jobs for those returning to the community; we are able to save lives.

Fortunately this week we helped one inmate returning to NY (from a Western PA prison) with housing and a job thanks to the Fortune Society, in another case we were able to help a young man who has returned to this community last week after five years in prison with employment, unfortunately a third person this week we were unable to help Jeremy (name changed) who wants a position more than… Read More »

Crime Drop

The numbers of the Jewish inmates incarcerated at the county jail has been more or less the same; we have seen a rise in Jewish inmates over the last few years, but nothing significant in the last year. Compared to the numbers of the rest of the population I think we have stayed in line.

The fears of increased prison population many in the community were predicting due to the new casino on the north side did not come about, our number have not reflected that and to date we have not seen an increase in people in the community seeking services for problems associated with gambling, more then we already were… Read More »

Building Bridges


The Prison Society won funding from the recently announced ‘Second Chance Act’ for funding of a program in PA for “Building Bridges”. The program will begin with two prisons, to have sixty inmate and sixty mentors, in each institution. The inmates will have nine month to go to the end of their sentence, upon their return to society the mentors will continue working with these individuals as they begin life once again.

The goal is to provide for a stable and trusting support and with the help of an institution on the outside to track them, the results should be a lot better then the national rate of recidivism of over seventy eight percent.

Mr. Jonathan T. Backers has been hired by the Prison Society to… Read More »

Moving PA inmates out of state

With over 55,000 inmates in the PA state prison! It is high time emphasis be given to rehabilitation; one key element of rehabilitation is the strengthening of ties between family and inmate.

Over ninety percent of those incarcerated are going to return to society and unless we make serious inroads and work with those incarcerated, they are more than likely going to end up back in prison. The current national rate of recidivism is 79%!

Separating these men and women from their family is only going to worsen the minimum support network that they have. Their families for the most part don’t have the resources or are not healthy enough to travel long distances.… Read More »

Story of man in prison

A Jew in Prison

A Reflection on Anti-Semitism on the Yard



David Arenberg had everything going for him. He was smart, the son of a research scientist and a teacher. He graduated in 1980 from the elite University of Chicago with a degree in psychology, and went on to become a left-wing tenants' rights organizer in New York City for seven years. But in 1987, he suffered a "personal tragedy" and a "political defeat" that he doesn't want to discuss but that prompted him to leave his organizing work. Always a moderate drug user, he says, he began abusing cocaine and "generally living a seedy life." His brother tried to rescue him by recruiting him to run a small trucking… Read More »

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