Published in The Federation Star; Spring 1999. Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved. The following writing may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any way including electronically, without the prior written consent of the author.
Who's Being Slaughtered?
by jane davis ©1999
While the international community, at large, is investigating the United States for blatant human rights violations because of our death penalty, Jews, as "a people", have been grossly removed and silent from the issues surrounding it and the many other issues raised thru our people sitting in prisons and death rows around the country.
On Thursday, April 8, 1999 Antuan Bronshtein, a Russian Jew, is scheduled to die by lethal injection in Pennsylvania. Governor Tom Ridge signed the execution warrant and scheduled his death for the last night of Passover.
We, as Jews, are being brought face-to-face with a spotlight on us. People will be watching, from all over the world, how we, supposed leaders of human concerns, respond to one of our own in a state sanctioned homicide on a sacred night.
We are scattered throughout the system like the prizes in a Cracker Jack box. One young man i work with was born of a Jewish mother and Christian father. He was raised with virtually nothing to do with his heritage. His mother died a year before he went to prison in 1986. While there, he has had alot of time to think, read, reflect, and question. One of the things he read was that if one is born to a Jewish mother than one is considered Jewish. He never knew that and it lit something up inside him. He mentioned, to a visiting Christian minister, that he thought he might actually be Jewish. The minister told others about it and as a result our brother was beaten over and over and over again so badly [by other prisoners] that he had to be put in protective custody. In his battered, bloody and bruised state he wondered about "Jewish" and his connection to it. Something inside of him was sparked. "If I'm going to be beaten up for being Jewish, I damn well want to learn about what it is!!!!" And so began his walk of learning. Learning what it is to BE Jewish. Like a baby starved for a mother's milk, so he craved knowledge of his soul and Torah. He found the Aleph Institute, Jewish Prisoner Services, and HOPE-HOWSE. He began learning Torah. He began wearing a yarmulke. He began the walk of being Jewish in his actions and thoughts.
Here is a Jew fighting for his rights, AS A JEW, of which he is so proud. Fighting, virtually alone, in a place where his very life is threatened. It would be much easier for him not to be Jewish or even to remain silent. As a result of his strength and courage two others have quietly come out from the shadows and whispered to him..... "We, too, are Jewish and want to be connected!" He laughs that he has become the Jewish voice but he is. And, he is extremely Torah and otherwise knowledgeable.
The only night in the prison when the lights in the Chapel are turned off is Friday night. That is the Chaplains night off. When asked about having Shabbat services in the Chapel they were told, "You can be Jewish in your cell! We don't work on Friday night." And who is listening to the lonely cries of our Jewish brothers and sisters locked away. We, the Jewish community, are not present and as a result contribute to the words told to the prisoners by so many Chaplains....."Your people don't care about you. You are a shame to them! They are not here for you!" and our physical and vocal absence contributes to the unconscionable treatment of a person "as a Jew."
As we near the millennium, as we near the state sanctioned killing of one of us, as we hear the stories of Jews abused in a system just because they are Jewish i think it is time for us all to individually sit and reflect on who you are as a Jew. What does being Jewish really mean? Would you and do you put yourself in physical danger just to fight for your right to be Jewish as so many of the prisoners locked away do?
Use these stories as an opportunity to learn about yourself when you say, "I am Jewish" and also to not forget our brothers and sisters in the prisons who are discarded by many of us but being observed by the world. We, thru them, like it or not, are in a spotlight many of you don't even want to be in. But, you are. In Antuan's case, before you leap to the popular question "What did he do?" to justify his killing, i beseech you to please ask yourself first [IF you identify yourself with being Jewish] "Who am I - as a Jew?! What does the Torah teach? What does it mean to BE "Jewish"?"