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A Trip to Jail
by Rabbi David Lieder, Melbourne, Australia

One Purim, our Chabad House organized a party for Israelis. It was a very joyous gathering attended by many friends and there was plenty to drink. The party ended at three in the morning and I remained at the Chabad house with another young man, who was helping me at that period of time.

Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner, an emissary of the Rebbe in Melbourne, walked in and said, “You must help us. There are Jewish prisoners in Fullham Correctional Centre and the young men who were going to visit them did not get entry permits. Since you are the only one with a permanent entry pass, I’m asking you to go there and read the Megillah.”

I wasn’t enthused. The Fullham jail is built in the desert, three hours away from Melbourne. Traveling there and back meant seven to eight hours of driving. On a day as busy as Purim, it seemed impossible. I told R’ Groner that I just couldn’t do it since the next day, at one o’clock, I was supposed to read the Megillah again at the Chabad house.

R’ Groner made a quick calculation and then said, “You can do it! If you go to sleep now until six o’clock and leave at six, you will get there at nine. You’ll spend an hour there, until ten, and you’ll be able to be back here by one.”

Since I was afraid to travel while exhausted, I asked the young man, my assistant, whether he could join me as an alternate driver. When he agreed to go, I could no longer refuse and we arranged to meet at six a.m.

I took a nap and at six o’clock we were on the road to the jail. At that time of year the sun rises at seven o’clock. I stopped the car in the middle of our trip and put on my prayer shawl and tefillin. I tried to wake up the young man who was traveling with me so he could take over the driving and I could pray, but I was unsuccessful.

Having no choice I continued to drive in tallis and tefillin, while looking for a place to pull over so I could pray with full concentration. We were in the vicinity of the city of Sale and near the exit off the highway I saw police barricades set up near a certain area. I didn’t have the time to figure out what that closed off area was and I simply circumvented the barricades, stopped near the grass, left my car and began to pray.

Before I finished praying I heard shouts behind me. I completed the amidah prayer and saw several guards yelling at me to leave the area immediately. It turned out that I had driven without permission onto a property owned by a factory which was holding a carnival for the children of their employees.

I motioned to the guards that I was almost done and I got into the car. As the car began moving I heard one of the guards yell, “Shalom!”

I quickly left the car and asked him whether he was Jewish. It turned out that he was a sixty-year-old Jewish man who, at the age of seven, had immigrated with his parents from England to a little town in Australia. From that point on he hadn’t been in contact with any Jews.

I don’t know who was more excited, he or I. In any case, I took a package of mishloach manos (gifts of food traditionally exchanged on Purim) out of my car for him, put tefillin on with him for the first time in his life, and quickly read the Megillah. He was extremely moved and cried like a baby.

Since I was rushing to the jail, we concluded our touching encounter, though not before exchanging phone numbers. We have been in touch since then.

When we arrived at the jail, the Jewish prisoners were very happy to see that the Rebbe hadn’t forgotten them but had sent his emissaries. When I told one of the men in jail what had happened along the way, he said, “Maybe all the suffering I’m going through here is worth it so that you met this Jew. Perhaps the Creator of the world sent us here just so that you would come to us and meet him.”


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