With the holiday season upon us, spreading love, cheer and peace is on everyone’s mind. Everyone is feeling a little generous during this time, too. And generosity can go a long way during the holidays – especially when it is being offered within the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
In keeping with its mandate that each state-sentenced inmate has the right to freedom of religious affiliation and voluntary religious worship while incarcerated, the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) announced that for the first time candles will be allowed to be lit behind bars during the eight days of Hanukkah.
According to Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan, this new policy will launch a pilot program for the use of candles in menorah lighting ceremonies during religious celebrations. Up until this point, battery-operated menorahs were permitted by inmates.
“Our goal is to respect and accommodate religious traditions as best we can in our institutions,” said Lanigan in the press release issued by the NJDOC. “I am pleased that collaborative discussions between the governor’s office, the Corrections Department, and leaders from New Jersey’s Jewish community have resulted in this pilot program.”
New Jersey Jewish News, (NJJN) reported, Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, executive director of the Friendship Circle of MetroWest, an organization run by Chabad was instrumental in making this collaboration become a reality. Back in 2011, friends at the Aleph Institute, an organization that ministers to Jewish prisoners, asked Grossbaum to arrange for a Hanukkah candle-lighting at the Essex County Correctional Facility. Those requests were denied by corrections officials on the grounds that a menorah could be converted into a makeshift weapon or start a fire, as reported by the NJJN.
Since the agreement for the pilot program was reached back in June, Grossbaum cited to NJJN, he has received letters from Jewish prisoners explaining how the menorah had an impact on them in prison.
“The observance of traditions is very important in the rehabilitation of inmates and can lead to a reduction in recidivism,” stated Grossbaum in the NJDOC press release. “Many people worked together on the details to make this possible, and because of them, we will bring the spirit of the holidays to people who need it most.”