Prison Communities - “an island of sorts”
A commonly under-realized Jewish community is the population of Jewish people living in prisons throughout British Columbia; however, a palpable sense of community emerges for the Jewish inmates and those that interact with them.
Cantor Michael Zoosman worked in BC as a prison chaplain for the Jewish community from 2009 until 2012, in addition to his regular work as Cantor at Congregation Beth Israel. As a Jew and as a spiritual leader, Cantor Zoosman is unique. His goal in working within prison communities adds depth to traditional ideals of Jewish community; many avoid the opportunity to “fulfill the spiritual needs of an inmate community” that he believes is “all too-often overlooked, even intentionally forgotten, and whose needs are therefore among the greatest in our society.” Since 2012 Rabbi Dina-Chasida Mercy has taken over Cantor Zoosman’s role as the community’s Jewish Prison Chaplain for Correctional Services of Canada.
Through his work in the prison system, Cantor Zoosman has seen the positive effects that a sense of belonging and community acceptance can have for the individuals during their incarceration and after their release. The sense of community inmates feel as a result of Cantor Zoosman’s work stays with them after they leave the prison system and begin to integrate back into society. The relationships they have formed with the prison chaplain helps in “creating a bridge for the individual to the greater Jewish community.”As well, “access to spirituality through the chaplain often can create a sense of meaning for the individual and elevate his/her experience from simply ‘doing time’ to doing something positive with their time.”