A Bar Mitzvah Behind Bars


A Page 3 article by Steve Feldman — now the Zionist Organization of America Greater Philadelphia chapter executive director — brings readers the tale of Bennett Seidman, a 41-year-old inmate at the State Correctional Institute at Graterford.

Seidman’s Dec. 5 Bar Mitzvah was believed to be the first within the prison’s walls.

Seidman was serving a five- to 10-year sentence, but he didn’t mention the charge, only saying that he didn’t physically hurt anyone.  He had been a partner with his brother in a Chester check-cashing business.

The inmate said he refused to become a Bar Mitzvah at 13 even though his three older brothers and an older sister did so and he had attended Hebrew school at Congregation Ohev Shalom in Wallingford.

Anti-Semitism he encountered growing up in Chester led him to feel confused about Judaism, he said.

Things began to change in prison.

“I came to my first Friday night service. All the other [Jewish] inmates were around me,” he said. “They were praying and singing and chanting — I was amazed. I felt a warmth. I started coming to the synagogue every day.”

Rabbinical student Howard Cohen helped Seidman prepare for his Bar Mitzvah.

“I spent a lot of time with him,” Cohen said. “He had sort of a Jewish awakening.”

No word on Seidman’s fate, but an internet search shows a 66-year-old with that name now living in Aston.


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