Prayer, Repentance and Charity Behind Bars

According to Jewish tradition, the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (which begins tonight), the New Year and Day of Atonement, are known as the Ten Days of Repentance. Our tradition is that on Rosh Hashana we beseech God to inscribe us in the Book of Life, for a new year of health, happiness and abundance.  On Yom Kippur the Book is sealed.  We greet one another during this period with the phrase, “May you be sealed (in the Book) for a good year.”

Our daily prayers change during this season as well, reflecting the awesomeness of the season. We offer special confessional prayers to enumerate and elucidate our sins and shortcomings, we recite Psalm 27 daily, and adapt other prayers referencing God as the “Holy King,” praising Him and reminding ourselves that He is the true Judge.  This season involves a deep degree of soul searching with a heavy dose of humility and sincerity. One addition to the season’s liturgy is the repetition of “Repentance, prayer and charity will avert the evil decree.”   It’s a time to dig deep spiritually, into one’s heart, to do repentance for sins and shortcomings of the previous year, pray fervently, and dig deep into one’s wallet by giving charity in the hope that God will see that our hearts are pure and we truly seek to repent and aspire to a better year.

In that light, I was especially taken by a donation for Heart to Heart ( recently from an inmate in a Texas prison. Heart to Heart is a program especially oriented to provide a direct and tangible means to support Israel and help save lives in Israel among the millions of Christians who understand this is a biblical injunction, and for whom it is second nature. Heart to Heart receives support from the furthest corners of the world, even those behind bars.

I’ll refer to this person as DR. It’s not the first time we have received a donation from an inmate.  In looking back, I realized it’s also not the first time that DR donated to Heart to Heart.  The $100 check, drawn from a Bank of America account of the “Texas Department of Criminal Justice Inmate Trust Fund” was the second such donation from DR.  When I looked at the check, I wondered how common it is for the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice to write a check as a charitable donation at all, much less to one that benefits people in Israel.

The check was accompanied with a lovely hand written letter which I am pleased to excerpt here: “Greetings in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ. Shalom. Even though I am incarcerated, my heart is for God and His will.  Soon I will be released – Nov. 24. Please pray for my safe and productive return to society. Together we stand for God and Israel.  Christians and Jews united together… allow me to serve the Lord in your organization in any way… is would be a delight to do so. I pray that this small and humble donation be blessed by the Lord to greatly equip your mission! Let us pray in this mission united for God’s will and Israel’s safety.” DR

My life and career have been blessed in many ways. This letter and donation are among the most notable, and remind me of the time I arranged literally tons of special Passover care packages for Jewish troops in Iraq in 2003. Almost immediately, I started receiving thank you notes from American soldiers stationed overseas, and spending Passover far from home.

In this case, for a person incarcerated to care so much about Israel as to make not one, but two $100 donations to Heart to Heart, mindful that his sentence is almost over and that he needs our prayers to return to society, is a humbling honor. I suspect that DR’s $100 is worth many more times that for someone who is free, with a good job, and who can go to church regularly.  If we believe in the promise of Genesis 12:3, that God will bless those who bless Israel, it’s hard not to believe that God sees DR’s heart, and has DR’s back.

I have taken it upon myself to take his note to me, and place it in the cracks of the Kotel, where it’s customary to write notes and prayers to God. It’s hard to imagine God not seeing this and answer DR’s own prayer.  But of course God knows all our hearts already. Please join me in praying for DR and his safe and productive return to society in November.

As we prepare to pass before God to receive His judgment this Yom Kippur, we can learn a great deal from DR whose prison sentence is ending and who clearly understands the obligation to stand for things much bigger than him. I know I will go into my prayer this Yom Kippur more humbled knowing that if DR can go the extra mile from behind bars, so can I. If DR can donate $100, I can do much more.

DR’s message and donation were not intended for Yom Kippur, but it’s impossible to see that his repentance, prayers and charity, and his understanding of obligations to others and society beyond himself, are a model to each of us as we stand before God as the True Judge. Surely, if this is DR’s inclination in prison, I pray that he will inspire and be a role model for other inmates, and that once free, that he stays focused on the big picture as he clearly is.  I look forward to meeting him one day, and to his continued support.

Please join me not only in prayer for DR, but for all of Israel, and to share this story and Heart to Heart’s mission of saving lives in Israel.

About the Author
Jonathan Feldstein made aliyah in 2004, married and raising six children in the Judean mountains. He is a long time Jewish non-profit professional and works closely with many Christians who support Israel.