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Michael Zoosman

Texas Halts Killing Jewish-Born Antisemitism Victim Before Holocaust Mem’l Day

Photo: Screenshot displaying anti-Semitic remarks from those who testified against Anibal Canales. Source: Death Penalty Action - https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/stop-the-execution-of-anibal-canales-jr-in-texas No copyright.

Until just recently, Texas had plans to execute our pen pal Anibal Canales, a Jewish-born victim of anti-Semitism with an innocence claim, via the Nazi legacy that is lethal injection. Texas was slated to do this on March 29th, just as Jewish world would be preparing for Holocaust Memorial Day a few weeks later. in the Jewish calendar. Mercifully, on March 16th, less than two weeks prior to that date, the state withdrew its death warrant in order to further explore his innocence claim. We, the thousands of members of “L’chaim! [“To Life”] Jews Against the Death Penalty” beg of Texans to consider what their state nearly avoided carrying out.

There is a song we sing at the Passover Seder every spring called “Dayeinu!” which in Hebrew means “it would have been enough for us.” We chant “Dayeinu!” again now over this latest state-sponsored murder, with its litany of horrors below… 

“Dayeinu! – It would have been enough!” if this were happening to any human being. And yet, there is more: Anibal was born Jewish. Roughly one year ago, he became a Messianic Christian. Many would say that this disqualifies him from any “Jewish” status. For Hitler and the Nazis, however, for whom one Jewish grandparent was the barometer, Anibal indeed would have been “Jewish enough”  (“dayeinu…”) for ritual slaughter.

“Dayeinu! – It would have been enough!” if this were happening to any person of a Jewish background. And yet, there is more: Anibal always has had a viable innocence claim. Anibal was incarcerated at the Telford Unit in New Boston, TX when Mr. Gary Dickerson – peace upon him –  was found dead in his cell by his cellmate. Anibal and another inmate were charged with his murder. Yet, that entire night, not a single correctional officer saw Anibal anywhere near the murder scene, which was located on an entirely different pod from where Anibal was housed. Furthermore, the primary evidence used against Anibal was jailhouse snitch testimony for which other prisoners received favorable treatment in exchange for testifying against Anibal. There is indeed measurable doubt in Anibal’s case, and as our sage Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) famously said: “It is better to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.” [Sefer HaMitzvot, Prohibition 290.]

“Dayeinu! – It would have been enough!” if this injustice were happening to any potentially innocent Jewish person. And yet, there is more: Anibal’s conviction was the result of blatant antisemitism that was used to encourage testimony against him.

One inmate said this before the trial:

“I don’t care if they fry that m—-r f—–g Jew boy; better than a white man. I know who was involved and as long as they blame a Jew, I ain’t got no problems with lying on somebody. I don’t see how anybody would think that coward a-s Jews could do anything like that, but as long as he takes the fall, it’s okay.” 

Another inmate said this: 

“I got transferred to Powledge unit for saying what the prosecution wanted me to say. I got to go to a trusty unit and all I had to do was lie on that Jew.” 

“Dayeinu! – It would have been enough!” if this were happening to any possible innocent Jewish victim of antisemitism. And yet, there is more: Anibal was slated to be killed by lethal injection, which is a direct Nazi legacy. It is a historical fact that lethal injection was first implemented in our world by the Nazis as part of their infamous Aktion T4 protocol in order to kill people deemed “unworthy of life.” It was devised by Dr. Karl Brandt, personal physician of Adolf Hitler. 

Finally, “Dayeinu! – It would have been enough!” if Texas were perpetuating this Nazi legacy at any time. And yet, there is more: the state planned this killing just ahead of Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Memorial Day on the Jewish calendar in April. Texas hearkens to other states who “honor” the memory of the Holocaust by erecting gas chambers in their states, one of which even offers the “Sophie’s Choice” of death by Zyklon B, the gas used in Auschwitz. Lest one believe that the setting of a Holocaust Memorial Day execution for a possibly innocent person is unique to this year, consider just last year, when our pen pal Melissa Lucio was scheduled to be put to death on the same day – Yom Hashoah – in the Jewish calendar. Mercifully, like Anibal, Melissa’s warrant was removed. How many more possibly innocent state murders must we endure in Texas on this solemn date, let alone any day?

Our group includes many descendants – like myself – of Holocaust survivors. We stand with Elie Wiesel, Martin Buber, (who with other Jewish human rights luminaries opposed the execution of Adolph Eichmann) and countless other Jewish leaders against the state-sponsored murder of any prisoners against their will. We echo Wiesel’s famous response to the question of capital punishment: that “death is not the answer.” Wiesel also made the following statement, which is our anthem in L’chaim:

“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.” 

Wiesel doubtless would join our chorus as we demand that the American Angel of Death pass-over Anibal permanently, as well as all others in line for execution. Together with all of civilized humanity, we chant:

“Dayeinu/Enough!” 

“Never Again” to state-sponsored murder!”

And indeed:  “L’chaim! – to Life!”

Cantor Michael Zoosman, MSM

Board Certified Chaplain, Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains

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

Advisory Board 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.
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