To learn is to live!
Jewish Prisoner Awareness Week - 12/11/2011 thru 12/17/2011
Jewish Prisoner Awareness Week - Press Release

Today there are over 53,000 inmates in Pennsylvania State prisons. Including Federal, state and local prisons there are over 120,000 incarcerated individuals just in Pennsylvania!

Although Jews account for only 1.7% of the prison population in the United States Aleph visits over two thousand Jewish men and women in the Pittsburgh region.  For geographic and economic reasons there are many State and Federal prison within one and a half hours of Pittsburgh, most with much larger Jewish population than average.

During the week of December 11th thru the 17th in synagogue we read the Torah portion Vayeshev. In this reading the Torah tells us how Joseph, the son of Jacob, was sold into slavery and about his incarceration in the prisons of Egypt.  This week is an appropriate week for us to learn about the pain and suffering that incarceration brings.

Our goal is to reach everyone in our community with our message. The Jewish community needs to become sensitive to and aware of the problems incarceration causes for those who have wronged society and need incarceration, for their families and also the problems the community must face when they return to society. Ninety-eight percent of incarcerated individuals will return to our community. We must have the necessary resources available so they become productive members of our community and do not cause further disruption to their families and loved ones and to the community at large.

Aleph Institute will conclude the ‘Jewish Prisoner Awareness Week’ by having an open house at our Center in Squirrel Hill at 5804 Beacon Street, on December 18th 2011 at 5:00 – 7:30 PM. All members of the community are welcome to stop in and learn more about the programs Aleph offers, and how everyone can make a difference. Although we have over ninety volunteers who dedicate many hours a year to these programs, there are many Jewish men and women in prison who are not getting visited or not getting visited on a regular basis. We need more help in accomplishing that goal.  Volunteers are also needed for administrative and clerical jobs in our office.

The Aleph Institute is a Jewish non-profit agency that provides religious and humanitarian programs and services to incarcerated Jewish men and women and their families. We also have many re-entry programs to help them when they return to society. Our aim is ‘No One Alone and No One Forgotten’.

For more information about this program or all Aleph programs or to volunteer, please contact us at 412-421-0111 x100, e-mail: [email protected] or visit us on the web at

Mission Statement & Programs
Mission Statement

The Aleph Institute is a not-for-profit Jewish religious, educational, and humanitarian organization serving the Jewish community. We offer a multitude of services to confined Jewish men and women and their families, focused on the premise that “no Jew is forgotten” and that “no Jew is alone.”

In-Prison Programs

Aleph Library – We understand that prisoners may have little or no money. Religious books are expensive and most prisoners cannot afford them. The Aleph Institute library allows prisoners access to these texts for religious studies after they have been approved by the Rabbis.  

Books and Religious Materials – This program is similar to the Aleph Library program, in that religious texts are provided to the inmates for religious studies. The difference is that these texts are completely free and distributed en masse. This program includes Jewish calendars, Jewish handbooks, etc. 

Torah Studies Program – This program seeks to provide Jewish study material for the Jewish men and women who are separated from the Jewish community and cannot attend study groups or classes. We provide the courses at a nominal cost, recognizing that the average inmate in prison earns no more than eleven cents an hour. We offer scholarships for the courses and the necessary books for those inmates who are indigent. These courses seek to take otherwise “dead” time and transform it into a time of spiritual growth and advancement. 

Chesed Mentoring Program – Prison is not a friendly place and prisoners need visitors to help keep their hopes up. The Chesed program provides volunteer visits, correspondence, emotional support and encouragement to inmates both while incarcerated and after their release. If you know of an inmate who needs a mentor, please contact our office. 

Grape Juice and Matzo for Shabbat – Aleph will supply the grape juice and matzo so that Jewish inmates can make the necessary and required blessings every Friday night or Saturday (during the day). To do this, the chaplain must schedule a fifteen minute period of time when the Jewish inmates can gather at the chapel for the prayer and make the blessing. This program is in effect at SCI Fayette and has been at SCI Mercer for a few years without problems. 

Holiday food – With the high prices of kosher food and the lack of availability near all the prisons, Aleph can supply food for the holidays at nominal cost to the inmates (i.e., a 96 oz. bottle of kosher grape juice is $1.00!). Forms are sent to the FCPD through the central office and the Rabbis. 

Weekly Magazine – The Aleph Institute publishes a weekly magazine with appropriate messages, lessons and instructions for the Jewish inmates. 

In-Prison Outreach – This program ensures that a Rabbi visits each prison every two weeks to make sure that the Jews imprisoned at these facilities are given their rights to religious services, including anything from kosher meals to menorahs during Chanukah. This program is necessary to ensure that the religious rights of Jews in prison are not infringed upon.  

Holiday Based Programs – The holidays of Judaism should be practiced everywhere regardless of the conditions. Aleph allows Jewish prisoners without Jewish surroundings to practice their religion. Also, the families of prisoners are afforded the opportunity to observe the holidays. .

Family counseling – We provide trained and experienced professionals who counsel the families of inmates, and give them the tools to cope with the nightmarish experience we know they must endure. In addition, we can secure emergency funds to help the families get through the experience. Please inform your Jewish inmates of this service for their families.

Torah Leadership Programs – Furlough programs work with the authorities to take select non-violent inmates out of the prison environment to a spiritual sanctuary, allowing them to learn and study and bring back Jewish leadership skills to the other inmates in their respective communities.

Re-Entry Programs

Aleph House – Inmates in state institutions cannot be released to parole unless they have a home plan: a place they will live when they leave prison. Unfortunately, many inmates have no place to call home, and therefore, are required in many cases to spend years and decades incarcerated longer until they provide an address which can be checked out by the parole officer. Aleph House opened in March 2000 with the help of a grant from the Jewish Family Assistance fund. It provides a home for inmates, thus giving them a chance to get out and obtain employment and begin a more productive life. 

Job Placement Program – One of the greatest dilemmas that face Jewish inmates upon release from prison is the uncertainty of where to turn and who will hire them. They leave prison greatly disadvantaged; they are convicted felons and have been out of the work force for months, if not year, and usually begin with nothing but the shirt on their back. Aleph helps these individuals by assisting them to find employment.

Religious Counseling – Returning to society can be confusing and traumatic. Religious counseling with the ex-inmate on a one to one basis eases their transition from prison to society.

Transitional Program – This program works with local Jewish agencies to provide free medical care, counseling services, clothes, and a host of community programs, providing the tools necessary for the individual to become a productive member of society.

Support Group meetings – There are weekly AA, NA, GA, and ALANON meetings held at the Aleph Institute. These meetings have proven a successful recourse for helping the tens of thousands of people afflicted with additive behavior. For more information about these support groups, please visit their respective website; only they can speak on behalf of their programs. Aleph Institute is proud to host these meetings.

Lectures and Meetings – Aleph has ongoing lectures and programs to help the ex-inmate and their family transition into society and find resources available to them during that difficult time. These meetings are open to the public – there is no sign-in process.

Question: How many Jews are in Prison?

Answer: It is estimated that 52,000 or 1.7% [1] of the over 7.2 million people on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole [2] are Jewish. It is difficult to give an exact number of how many Jews are in the system because inmates are not required to declare a religious preference and data on religious affiliation is not collected.

Question: Are most Jews in prison non-observant?

The Jewish Community in prison closely mirrors the Jewish community outside of prison. There are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews. There are non-observant and non-affiliated Jews. There are those who choose to get involved with Jewish activities and those who don't. Some Jewish prisoners, particularly in high security facilities, don’t want to be identified as Jewish because of real fears of being discriminated against or otherwise endangered by anti-Semitic staff and inmates. Many Israeli in trouble with the law mainly for drug-related offenses or because they overstayed their visa add an international flavor to the Jewish prison community. And finally one of our big problems is the many non-Jewish inmates claiming to be Jewish for a variety of reasons from trying to receive the imagined perks to the naive belief that kosher food is cleaner.

Question: What crimes have Jewish prisoners typically committed?

Answer: We have done such a great job of assimilating that Jews are committing the exact same offenses in the exact same proportions as everybody else. Jews are also just as susceptible to drug addiction, family abuse, sexual misconduct, etc., etc. as non-Jews. Yes, there are Jews on death row and regretfully, there are Jewish child molesters.

Question: What level of religious observance do most Jews in Prison keep?

Answer: Many Jewish inmates were relatively non-observant before being incarcerated. For many Jewish inmates, prison is their first real contact with yiddishkite as prisoners tend to seek an affinity group to help them survive the experience and Jews tend to find other Jews - even if they come from a secularized family and don't know what is to be Jewish.

Question: What challenges do Jewish prisoners face behind bars? 
Answer: For almost all of them who are incarcerated, it is a constant battle to be permitted even the smallest of Jewish practices and property and without the advocacy of Jewish chaplaincies, many of them would be totally obstructed.

Question: How many women are incarcerated?

Answer: Female inmates comprised almost 12 percent of the jail population on June 30, 2002, up from 10 percent in 1996. Almost 30 percent were being held for drug law violations, compared to 24 percent of the male inmates [3].

Question: What effect on families?

Answer: There are more than 1.7 million children in the United States with an incarcerated parent [4] One in 43 (2.3 percent) American children has a parent incarcerated in state or federal prison ( Sentencing Project/Research and Advocacy for Reform, Feb. 2009).

Question: How many people are incarcerated for violent crimes?

Answer: As of 2006 [update], 49.3% of state prisoners, or 656,000 individuals, were incarcerated for non- violent crimes. As of 2008 [update], 90.7% of federal prisoners, or 165,457 individuals, were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.

[1] The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

[2] Bureau of Justice Statistics

[3] Bureau of Justice Statistics

[4] The Sentencing Project/Research and Advocacy for Reform, Feb. 2009).

NY Times; US Inprisons one in 100

There are nine people affected on the outside, for every one person in prison!

Over 98% of those incarcerated will be released, it is imperative we provide them with the tools and services that they make it once released. 
There will be an open house at Aleph Institute on Sunday 12/18/2011, 5:00 - 7:00 PM.

Please come and learn more about the work we do and volunteer opportunities in the community and in prison.

For More Information:
Please stop into our center or contact us at 412-421-0111 x100 or via e-mail at [email protected].