If you didn’t get your fill of matzah during Passover, you’ll have a second chance on Sunday, May 22.
More importantly, if you have done wrong it’s a most opportune day to change for the better, notes Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel, the executive director of the northeast chapter of the Aleph Institute, an international organization that aims to help incarcerated Jews and their families, in addition to Jewish service men and women in the U.S. military.
The nonprofit entity will host its seventh annual Re-Entry Symposium, a training program for Jewish chaplains who serve people in prisons, hospitals or group homes. “The way forward is to teach” people who are incarcerated, emphasizes Vogel, “and give them the rehab they need to become productive citizens.”
The conference takes place in Pittsburgh during Pesach Sheni, the Second Passover on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar.
The holiday stems from the first anniversary of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, when some Jews were not able to make the Passover offering of a pascal lamb to G‑d. Disappointed that they were not able to join with their fellows, the people pleaded their case to Moses and Aaron. Moses then went before God, who said, according to the book of Numbers: “Any person who is contaminated by death, or is on a distant road, whether among you now or in future generations, shall prepare a Passover offering to G‑d. They shall prepare it on the afternoon of the fourteenth day of the second month.”
The rabbi says the message of the holiday in an important one particularly for people who have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison.
“We all trip in our own ways, and we have to know that there is a second chance,” says the rabbi. “We can always repent. We can start off life anew. We can fix the errors that we have made.”
The symposium will feature speakers such as U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti, who will discuss the importance of alternative sentencing, such as home confinement and volunteering instead of incarceration. Vogel says his organization has worked with the judge over the last few years to develop alternative sentencing programs. He believes that in recent years, more people have noticed both the costs of incarceration and the high recidivism rates, and realized that the current approach to criminal justice is not effective.
Government played a role in the scheduling of the symposium. The organization normally holds the conference in October, but the Pennsylvania state legislature and governor were stuck in a ninth-month budget impasse that forced a partial government shutdown. Chaplains would not have been able to be reimbursed by the state for the training.
The state passed a new budget in March. The upshot of the delay was that the Aleph Institute could now hold the conference around a holiday dedicated to second chances. And matzah will be served.
“It’s always good to eat matzah to remind us where we come from,” notes Vogel, “and how we started as a nation.”