January 2020 Newsletter

My dear brothers and sisters in state service, Shalom!

Having recently completed the festival of Chanukah, I am reminded of a powerful lesson from the candles, given by my teacher and mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe:

“It's luminous, it's warm, it's romantic; but most of all it's spiritual. A yellow droplet of light, laced with red, bright-white at the edges, and blue at the core as if dirtied by its contact with the material wick. But we didn't see all those colors until we counted them — the flame itself is a perfect, integral whole, emanating calm and tranquility.

How, indeed, can something as agitated as the flame radiate such peace? A flame is a clash of forces pulling in opposite directions. Back and forth, up and down it strives, vacillating between being and naught, between presence and oblivion.

"The soul of man is a candle of G‑d" (Proverbs 20:27). For the soul of man, too, is a clash of divergent forces and contrary strivings.

We yearn to tear free of our "wick" — of the body that anchors us to the physical reality and sullies us with physical needs and wants. We strive upwards, yearning to transcend the physical, and fuse with the universal and the divine. At the same time, we cling to the body, to the bit of matter that sustains us as dynamic and productive participants in G‑d's world.

It is this perpetual up-and-down, this incessant vacillation from selfhood to selflessness and back again, that we call life. It is this eternal tension between our desire to escape the physical and our commitment to inhabit it, develop it and sanctify it that makes us spiritual beings.

We can sit and gaze at the flame for hours, because we are gazing at ourselves.”

We are in a capacity to be “lamplighters”. Lighters of candles, lighters of peace, and lighters of spirituality and divinity. Let us fully utilize these talents and skills to radically change the world, uplifting it from the physical to the spiritual, from darkness to light, from conflict to peace.


Thank you all for your support over the past two years as president of ACCSS. It is both gratifying and humbling. The chaplaincy is networking and interacting, as well as being represented, at an unprecedented level with the various departments and stakeholders. This is thanks to your support of the ACCSS board and the boards’ commitment to all of you to always put the chaplaincy at the forefront in everything we do.

The results of the ACCSS executive elections have been tallied and the following individuals have been (re)elected:

President: Benzion Lew, Jewish chaplain, incumbent. Benzion will also now become the Jewish representative to the ACCSS board.
Secretary: Wynona Majied Martinez, Muslim chaplain. Wynona will also become the Muslim representative to the ACCSS board.
Treasurer: Edwin C. Santiago, Catholic chaplain.

These terms begin immediately. Congratulations to the new board members and welcome. Thank you to all who participated and voted.

I humbly accept this second, and final, two-year term, and I look forward to working with the new board.

On behalf of the ACCSS board, I would like to take a moment to thank the following three individuals for their selfless dedication and willingness to serve on the ACCSS board, and who are now stepping away to focus on other things:

Father George Williams, Secretary;
Rabbi Paul Gordon, Treasurer and Jewish representative;
Imam Sadiq Shoaib, DJJ and Muslim representative.

These individuals really went above and beyond during their tenure, and ACCSS owes them an enormous debt of gratitude and appreciation. They each helped guide ACCSS in their capacity, and I wish them only blessings and success in all their future endeavors.

On a personal note, they each helped me tremendously, navigating the presidency and its intricacies, especially at the beginning of my tenure. They always had my back, while respecting their roles and various obligations, and it was a pleasure working closely with them. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and good luck and blessings on all your future endeavors.

One of my main agenda items in this term is for ACCSS to go back to the basics - focusing specifically on training and development. This is something which has been lacking and this is an area that I am looking to tackle together with the ACCSS board. There are various ways to accomplish this, and during the past few months I have been working behind the scenes on setting the foundation for making this happen. Stay tuned for updates.  

Here is a look at some of the things ACCSS has done during the past two years, and some of the upcoming things (this is by no means a complete list, nor should it in any way diminish from the work of the previous ACCSS boards):

  • ACCSS website refresh;
  • Establishing the ACCSS forum;
  • Regained a seat on the SACIR board (State Advisory Committee on Institutional Religion);
  • ACCSS now has a representative on the SRRC (Statewide Religious Review Committee);
  • Involvement in the 2018 state-wide regional trainings;
  • Involvement in the 2019 CDCR new chaplain training;
  • Opportunity (mostly by CDCR) to be involved in the state-wide memos, Title 15 and DOM changes, as well as other important decisions directly affecting the Chaplaincy;
  • More active participation from the ACCSS board to the members;
  • Many meetings with the state entities on chaplain specific issues and concerns;
  • Membership growth.

Here are some of the upcoming things ACCSS is currently working on:

  • On February 3rd, I will be meeting with CDCR Secretary Diaz. This meeting is specifically related to the Chaplaincy, and I would love to hear your feedback or concerns (non-Union related) which I could potentially bring forth. Please email me at benzion.lew@cdcr.ca.gov.
  • On February 4th of, I will be meeting with CDCR Director Gipson. This meeting, as above, is specifically related to the Chaplaincy. Please forward me anything appropriate to bring forth.
  • Also on February 4th, I will be attending the SACIR meeting. This particular meeting is poised to be a very important one, as we will be looking for ways to re-establish and re-focus on the advisory role of this organization. This organization has great potential, and we will be working on how best to accomplish this and the other goals of SACIR.
  • ACCSS continues to be represented at the monthly SRRC meetings (conference calls). You are encouraged to submit any religious issues which can potentially be addressed. They are usually held on the second Friday of each month. Email me at benzion.lew@cdcr.ca.gov.
  • As previously communicated, ACCSS has been working on an exciting new platform for Chaplains to be able to better communicate and be able to take better advantage of resources. It is a forum with great potential. It is still a work in progress and any and all feedback will be greatly appreciated. Go to http://forums.accss.org/ and sign-up. Also, please be active – It is only as good as we allow, and create, it to be. *Please note that although it is functioning, the forum is by no means complete. We are looking for resources and content, as well as if you would like to see a sub-forum or other change. This is a place for us to be able to discuss and network, and I’m looking forward to it growing and becoming a powerful tool for us to utilize.
  • ACCSS is now in the process of working with the state on the next training. We will update you when things are more concrete. Ideas and suggestions, as well as presenters, are encouraged and wanted. Previous trainings have not emphasized the chaplaincy enough and this is something I will be working hard to change. I am also hopeful that we will be able to incorporate more time for us chaplains, especially to network and get to know one another. Stay tuned. *While on the topic, I would like to point out that the trainings are where most of your dues go. ACCSS offers to pay for any fees associated with the trainings that the state cannot, or will not, cover. We also strive to ensure that no chaplain should pay out of pocket for any part of the training, as well as we enhance the trainings with snacks and drinks.

As always, we are constantly on the lookout for ways to help the Chaplaincy strive and become better. I personally love communicating with all of you and would love to hear feedback, questions, concerns, or even complaints. We are in this together and are looking for ways to help each other. But we can only attempt to address issues or concerns if they are brought to our attention.

I would like to wish each of you the very best in all you do. You are all awesome and needed, thank you for all you do. Let us shine like the candles we are, and be sure to kindle the flame in others you meet. We were all created in the divine image, and you must seek that out within each person you meet. Speak to that spark inside, and the outer shell of behavior will melt before you.

All the best,

Rabbi Benzion Lew