David Ben Moshe

A Rosh Hashanah letter for the men in prison – 5784

The Campsite Where I Wrote this Letter. (courtesy)

A tzadik asked me to write a Rosh Hashana letter for the men he visits in prison.

Here’s what I sent them.

Dear Friends,

I am writing to you from the big crater. It’s not actually a crater; it is a massive valley filled with multicolored sand naturally carved out from flowing water. The Negev was not always a desert, and the passage of time has left some beautiful scars on the land.  

Currently, I am camping. My wife is reading stories to the children, trying to get them to bed, and I am sitting at a stone picnic table. There was a stargazing party nearby, but they are packing up. Soon, we will be alone, and it will be silent. 

When I was in prison, I was blessed to be in a residence hall that had an outdoor space. There were two long grey hallways full of cells, and boxed in between those, and two other rooms (one was the case manager’s office, and one was the shower room) was a courtyard. 

And in that little square of sunshine, there were stone picnic tables. I drank a lot of coffee at those tables. And I read a lot of books. And I watched a lot of chess. 

I am beyond fortunate now, but I was fortunate then. One way to find meaning in life is to make the best of your current situation. Remember that if you are still breathing, you are fortunate; time will pass, and things will change.   

The stargazers have left. We are alone in the silence. 

Things have changed a lot for me over the past few years. I went from prison in Petersburg, Virginia, to building a life in Baltimore, Maryland, to building a family in Jerusalem, and now I have finally landed in Be’er Sheva.

We plan on growing our family and staying in the south of Israel. The undeveloped future of the country. The desert. Deserts are a place of hardship and transformation. Before the Children of Israel could return to the Promised Land, they had to be transformed in the desert. 

Back at those stone benches in Virginia, I couldn’t believe my life would take the turns it has in 11 years since my release. But I dreamt of a life like this, wrote many of those dreams down, planned, and prayed. Things didn’t turn out like the plan, but the life I have now is wonderful.

I think a lot about prison; sometimes, I feel like I am still locked up.

Institutions still judge me because of things I did a lifetime ago, before my rebirth behind bars. And it feels that no matter how many years pass, no matter what I achieve with my second chance I will never be more than a criminal. 

But some people don’t care. My wife. My children. This year, I want to focus on building relationships with them, which is why we are out here camping. With G-d’s help, we will do a lot of camping this year. 

I have been distant from them. The most recent punishment for my past crimes was five years of fighting for my right to be a citizen of the State of Israel. Something that should have been solved in a few months, maybe a year. But the government didn’t play fair and refused to follow the law.

It was another example of the reality that, since I broke the law, the protections enshrined in the law often don’t apply to me. 

While I wish it could be different, I have chosen to find meaning by making the best of the situation and relative to what I went through with the fight for citizenship, building a life with two felonies in America, a few years in prison and a few years running the street I feel like I am in the best position I have been in a very long time.

But the stress hurt my relationships. My ability to connect and be present, my mind was constantly stuck on the obstacle in my path. I couldn’t get my mind off the struggle and truly be with the people who loved me.  

I have a few scars from my time on this earth. They rob me of peace. I have coped by ignoring them to the best of my ability. 

But this year, I want to begin a healing process. A new year is upon us; it is the perfect time to change. While it is true that you can change on any day, there is something special about the mindful counting of weeks, months, or years. A year is a lot of time, and a lot can change over the course of a year.

What will you create this year? How will it help you heal?

It isn’t easy to create behind bars. There isn’t much to create except for words on a page and memories of a place no one wants to visit. But if you don’t give up, if you do the best you can with what you have, something magically might happen for you. 

I was blessed that it happened to me, and I will pray that it happens for you.

Shana Tovah,


About the Author
David Ben Moshe is a coach and storyteller whose life is a testament to the power of positive change. In prison, he decided to build a better life. After his release, he became a successful fitness coach and underwent an Orthodox Jewish conversion. After being prevented from attending Graduate School due to his criminal record, he moved to Israel, where he fought a five-year battle for citizenship. Now, he helps people change their lives and tells stories people can learn from.
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