search
Michael Zoosman

Florida Invites the ‘Angel of Death’ for Sukkot Execution

Image: A picture of the author’s Sukkah, temporary dwelling, under construction on Sept. 26th, 2023

On October 3rd, Florida plans to put to death Michael Duane Zack during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Michael is guilty of the horrific murders of Ravonne Smith, z’l, and Laura Rosillo, z’l. May their memories be for everlasting blessings and may their abiding neshamot/spirits be loving guides for all privileged to know them. May their loved ones be comforted among all the mourners of the world… 

As the petition drafted by Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty explains, Michael grew up in his alcoholic mother’s womb and was born prematurely after her car accident. His military father left shortly after his birth, and his mother’s next husband was sadistically abusive towards Michael and his three sisters. As a result, Michael suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression, fetal alcohol syndrome, and organic brain damage. Mental health experts felt that he had the mental and emotional age of a 10 or 11-year-old child.

Still, Michael is remorseful, has been peaceful on death row, and with his limited intellectual functioning, has learned to read and write. He has tried to make sense of how his traumatic upbringing impacted the choices he made as an adult. He has remained sober for the longest period of his life while in prison.

Florida plans to carry out Michael’s state killing during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. This is a time when Jews around the world build temporary dwellings, into which they invite loved ones, as well as different Biblical ancestors as spiritual guests for each of the seven days of the holiday. While the Jewish world will be welcoming these Ushpizin (Aramaic for guests) to celebrate this festival of joy and to help spread Sukkat Shalom (“A Canopy of Peace”), Florida will be marking the occasion by inviting back another infamous Biblical character to kill Michael Duane Zack:  Malach Hamavet – the proverbial “Angel of Death.” Holocaust survivor and Nobel poet laureate Elie Wiesel famously invoked the symbolism of this figure when he powerfully said of capital punishment: 

“With every cell of my being and with every fiber of my memory I oppose the death penalty in all forms. I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don’t think it’s human to become an agent of the angel of death.”

Jean Gonzales noted in her recent op-ed that the execution of Michael Zack will be the sixth Florida state killing in 222 days, an average of one every 37 days. To reflect this horrific synchronicity, below is an amended version of the liturgy chanted for the welcoming of guests during these days, offset with Florida’s morbid ritual:

On Day One: 

Into our Sukkah we welcome Abraham, merciful one, holy father. Welcome Ruth, devoted kallah-daughter. Welcome with them, Yitzḥak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef, and David, Sarah, Rivka, Miriam, Devorah, Tamar, and Raḥel.

And Florida Responds: 

On February 23, 2023, we welcomed the Angel of Death to kill Donald David Dilbeck.

On Day Two: 

Into our Sukkah we welcome Isaac, bound one. We welcome Sarah, mistress, holy mother.     We welcome with them, Avraham, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef, and David, Ruth, Rivka, Miriam, Devorah, Tamar, and Raḥel.

And Florida Responds: 

On April 12, 2023, we welcomed the Angel of Death to kill Louis Bernard Gaskin.

On Day Three: 

Into our Sukkah we welcome Yaakov, perfect, whole one. Welcome Rebecca, God-seeker.    We welcome  with them, Avraham, Yitzḥak, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef, and David, Ruth, Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Tamar, and Raḥel.

And Florida Responds: 

On May 3, 2023, we welcomed the Angel of Death to kill Darryl Brian Barwick.

On Day Four:

Into our Sukkah we welcome Moshe, faithful shepherd. Welcome Miriam, the prophet, wellspring of the exalted stream. We welcome with them, Avraham, Yitzḥak, Yaakov, Aharon, Yosef, and David, Ruth, Sarah, Rivka, Devorah, Tamar, and Raḥel.

And Florida Responds: 

On June 15, 2023, we welcomed the Angel of Death to kill Duane Eugene Owen.

On Day Five:

Into our Sukkah, we welcome Aharon, holy priest. We welcome Devorah, the prophet, judge of Israel. We welcome with them, Avraham, Yitzḥak, Yaakov, Moshe, Yosef and David, Ruth, Sarah, Rivka, Miriam, Tamar, and Raḥel.

And Florida Responds: 

On August 3, 2023, we welcomed the Angel of Death to kill James Philip Barnes.

On Day Six:

Into our Sukkah we welcome Yosef, righteous one. Welcome Tamar, righteous one, bearer of mashiakḥ. We welcome with them, Avraham, Yitzḥak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, and David, Ruth, Sarah, Rivka, Miriam, Devorah, and Raḥel.

And Florida Responds: 

On October 3, 2023, during Sukkot, we shall welcome the Angel of Death to kill Michael Duane Zack.

On Day Seven:

Into our Sukkah we welcome David, anointed king. We welcome Raḥel, mother weeping for her children. We welcome with them, Avraham, Yitzḥak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, and Yosef, Ruth, Sarah, Rivka, Miriam, Devorah, and Tamar.

And Florida Responds: 

We shall welcome the Angel of Death to kill again…

If the amended liturgy above is not amenable, consider as well the liturgy below, taken word for word from the ending of the Ne’ilah service amidah (formal prayer) of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, which the Jewish world just observed two days ago: 

Image of Page 405 of Machzor Leiv Shaleim – a High Holiday prayer book used on Yom Kippur. 

From the text above: 

“You, forgiving God, are compassionate and merciful, patient, abounding in love and goodness, and desire the return of evildoers – not their death. For you instructed Your prophet Ezekiel: “Say to them, ‘As I live,’ declares the Lord, ADONAI, ‘I do not desire the death of the evildoers, but that they turn from their paths, and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil paths that you may not die, House of Israel!’… ‘Is it My desire that the evildoer die,” declares the Lord, ADONAI, ‘Is it not that they turn from their ways and live?’…’It is not My desire that the wicked shall die, but that the wicked turn from their evil ways and live.’”…For you forgive Israel and pardon the tribes of Jeshurun in every generation. Beside You, we have no sovereign who pardons and forgives.” 

Indeed, the governor of Florida, for one, does not seem to pardon and forgive…

May humanity see the day when state killings end. Until that time, and especially while executions continue on the Sukkot festival, the traditional greeting of “Chag Sukkot Sameakh” – a “Joyous Festival of Sukkot” – shall forever ring hollow. 

L’chaim – To Life!

Cantor Michael J. Zoosman, MSM

Board Certified Chaplain –  Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains

Co-Founder: L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty

Advisory Committee Member, Death Penalty Action

About the Author
Cantor Michael Zoosman is a Board Certified Chaplain with Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC) and received his cantorial investiture from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 2008. He sits as an Advisory Committee Member at Death Penalty Action and is the co-founder of “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty.” Michael is a former Jewish prison chaplain and psychiatric hospital chaplain. Currently, he is a multi-faith hospital chaplain at a federal research hospital, the National Institutes of Health - Clinical Center. His comments here represent his own opinions.
Related Topics
Related Posts