It’s really hard to imagine the feelings of a wife, whose husband and former breadwinner was suddenly taken away from her in cuffs, and who now has to deal with hysterical children, eviction notices and endless shame. Contrary to the general misconception most of these families are destitute. Some of these families don’t even have enough money to pay for the phone bills to talk to their husband/father.
For 36 years, Since the Lubavitcher Rebbe founded Aleph in 5741/1981, Aleph has become extended family to panicking wives, terrified children and broken-hearted parents.
Aleph is currently running a 36-hour $360,000 matching campaign. Every dollar donated will be doubled, bringing much-needed resources to people in prison, service personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces and their families at home, as well as to the young precious souls trapped in the cycle of drug addiction, incarceration, and homelessness. No gift is too small. Please give now by donating at www.Aleph360.org.
Children whose parents are in prison experience fear, confusion, shame, and isolation from situations that are completely out of their control and often beyond their comprehension. They usually don’t have warning or explanation. Many experience the shock of seeing armed police officers enter their homes, handcuff their loved ones and disappear with them into the unknown.
Avi will never forget that frightening morning when such a scene played out at his home. “A terrifying fear sliced through me. I thought I wouldn’t see my Dad for a long time. Maybe never. ” He was seven at the time.
“I remember waking up to loud knocks at about four or five in the morning. When we opened the door, an officer put my sister and I on a couch and started to talk to us, trying to distract us from what was going on.”
Avi’s older sister immediately grasped the harsh reality, but the young boy initially was excited, and thought “it was cool. Real police officers were in our house, all dressed up with uniforms and badges.” But then he started to get it. “The second I saw the handcuffs behind my father’s back, I started breaking down in tears.”
Today, many years later, Avi has healed. He can look back and see exactly what made this possible. First and foremost, he credits his emotional stability to his mom—“the strongest person I know”–who with remarkable composure and resiliency, did her very best to make her children’s lives normal and happy.
Avi also is full of gratitude to Aleph “for saving my childhood and helping shape who I am today.” His mother struggled to make ends meet with the sudden loss of her husband’s income, and Aleph stepped in, helping her and her children emotionally, socially, and financially. It was much more than the needed check, it was personal friendship and support. Avi remembers that “Rabbi Zvi was a big part of keeping my mom strong, which kept us strong.”
His mother didn’t try to deny the truth of their new circumstances. She spoke honestly to her children, explaining everything that was happening to them. Yet she found the strength and creativity to put everything in the most positive light possible, changing what could have been negative to something fun.
At one point, the family had to sleep in the car. “She said it was like a camping trip,” Avi chuckles. When they had to go to the market but had no car to load the bags into, “she took me, my sister and a couple of friends on our bikes, and turned it into a trip. She made everything so much easier,” he says, recalling his mother’s strength and endurance.
Thank G-d, Aleph was able to helped his mother with financial support and sent Avi and his sister to summer camps for several years. “Those are summers I will never forget,” explains Avi. “And their help continued year round,” he recalls.
“There were many regular happenings that just made a big difference over time—Aleph arranged for us go to Sunday school and introduced us to Jordan, who took a group of us for barbeques and gave us Torah lessons. Many of the fun parts of my childhood came from Aleph. In a big way. They kept filling in the gaps where my father should have been. I didn’t feel deprived because Aleph helped us feel that we weren’t missing anything.”
When the time approached for his bar-mitzvah, Avi worried that his father’s absence would “be embarrassing for me and for my family.” Aleph came up with a creative solution, and arranged for Avi to have the event at the main Lubavitch synagogue,770, in New York—complete with a welcoming community and host family.
On the day of his bar-mitzvah, Avi had “someone to take the place of my father, who stood next to me while I had my Aliyah, read the Torah, for everything. His presence calmed me down and gave me the confidence to do it.” Even during Shabbos meal that followed, everyone went out of their way to honor and support Avi. The Bar Mitzvah boy was seated “next to the father of the house, and made to feel a part of the family, celebrating with songs and praise and a whole gathering around me.” Aleph helped transform this dreaded occasion into a highly meaningful experience.
All these critical building blocks have made a tremendous difference : summer camp experiences, unconditional emotional support, financial and logistical help with services and resources, and Aleph’s ongoing commitment to integrate and involve the family with the Jewish community. Avi is sure that without this, his life would likely have turned out very differently.
Today, this fine young man is a Navy Sergeant in the Israel Defense Force, responsible for weapon maintenance and ship navigation. “When we’re on a mission, I’m the one that shoots” he explains, adding that he has been trained to stay focused on the enemy even in situations “where you are shivering and your fingers are freezing from the icy waters.” His sister also completed her army duties in Israel and is currently studying at an Israeli university.
Poised, accomplished, and grateful to Hashem for connecting him with Aleph, Avi sums up his life with a simple yet powerful statement:
“You could come from nothing and become something if somebody believes in you. Aleph believed in me”
ALEPH PROGRAMS FEATURED:
The Summer Camp Program strives to enrich the lives of children traumatized by a parent’s incarceration. The initiative provides a safe, loving and nurturing summer experience for these vulnerable youngsters. Aleph pays for their entire camp session fees, including air transportation to camp sites throughout the country under the supervision of an Aleph chaperone. The Jewish summer camps offer a vital escape from the children’s daily lives, which are often fraught with stress, confusion and sadness. For their parents—whether incarcerated or alone at home struggling to make ends meet—this opportunity brings joy, comfort and gratitude, as they can rest assured, knowing their children are experiencing a fun and engaging child-centered program. The stressed parents also get a much-needed reprieve from the enormous responsibilities of child care in the midst of so much turmoil.
Crisis Funds for Families: Aleph’s Crisis Fund supports families in their most critical hour. This program addresses the immediate needs of a family suddenly thrown into chaos by the arrest of the breadwinner. Unable to pay rent, food, utilities, basic living expenses and mounting legal fees, those left behind–usually a wife and children–are desperate. Aleph intervenes by providing emergency financial aid for the shattered family, enabling it to recover from the sudden financial hit and start to reestablish itself. The program also provides professional guidance for the spouse at home, helping her find employment, less expensive housing when necessary, coupled with ongoing emotional, religious and community support and involvement to help her cope with her new situation.
Bar and Bas Mitzvah Sponsorships: When a parent is incarcerated, life becomes infinitely more complicated for the family. A child’s Bar or Bas Mitzvah may be transformed from a time of celebration and joy to one shrouded in shame, punctured by the poignant absence of a parent. Aleph steps in to make the Bar or Bas Mitzvah as perfect as possible. From arranging for a teacher to learn with the child, to sponsoring some of the expenses, Aleph does everything they can to make it a very memorable day even though their parent may not be able to be with them personally.
Learn more about our work at www.aleph-institute.org