May 2020 Newsletter

My dear fellow chaplains,

It is my fervent hope that you and your loved ones are, and remain, healthy and strong as we navigate the current storm.

Wherever I am or who or what I am listening to, the one thing I keep hearing these days is, “things are/will be different”, or “this is the new normal”. Most, if not all, of the time, the insinuation is that things are and will be worse off. I object and reject this idea. Different does not have to mean something negative. We can learn a lot by being, or doing things, differently, it is a matter of perspective. It is also an opportunity to internalize things from a completely new dimension.

The great Lubavitcher Rebbe, my teacher and mentor, once challenged Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief Rabbi of Great Britain, and asked him what he was doing for his constituency. Rabbi Sacks responded that, “due to the circumstances I find myself in…” The Rebbe told him, "Nobody finds themselves in a situation; you put yourself in a situation. And if you put yourself in that situation, you can put yourself in another situation." In other words, do not accept a situation, work to change it.

Sometimes the best way of achieving your ambitions is to stop pursuing them, and let them pursue you. Allow G-d to tell us what it is He wants from us, and let that shine forth.

Have Faith, Not Fear!

Yes, the concern is real. But the truth is, there is only One who decides what will happen to us, and that is G-d. Trust that He is good and think only good thoughts, and things will be good.

Most studies have shown that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills, and health-related quality of life.

As in most situations, fear does not do anyone much good. Even a teaspoon of faith, on the other hand, has amazing healing power.

Be Infectious!

Let us take a page from the playbook of this nasty virus. It is infectious, it is spreading, and it is separating people and even causing us to be suspicious of each other.

So be an antivirus! Just by adding a little goodness and kindness to the world, you can be infectious in a positive way.

Spread kind words, helpful actions, and a little more love and caring to the planet. May our collective good stop the spread of anything negative!


Before Covid-19 reared its ugly head, ACCSS was actively working with the state to provide training for all the chaplains to take place sometime in October. Due to the governor’s orders and restrictions, we mutually agreed to put a hold on any training arrangements. It is now looking more likely that what we were planning will have to be postponed. As soon as it is practically feasible and safe, we will make a determination on how and when to proceed.

My meeting with CDCR Secretary Diaz and Director Gipson was above and beyond what I expected. We spoke about the many ways the chaplaincy has been, and continues to be, helping the department in achieving their new vision of “humanizing” CDCR. We spoke about the Day of Peace and Reconciliation and they mentioned how grateful they were to the chaplains for an outstanding performance. The main purpose of the meeting was to open a dialogue with the leadership of CDCR, and to find common ground in helping the department(s) work in changing the ethos to reflect what we are tasked with: correct and rehabilitate. The chaplaincy is in a unique position in being able to accomplish this, and in a lot of ways we already do. I will stay in touch with them and keep you updated.

ACCSS continues to be a participant in the Statewide Religious Review Committee (SRRC). This committee is comprised of CDCR individuals who tackle any religious issues and concerns. Please reach out to ACCSS if you are having any issues with religious programming, and we will see about potentially bringing it forth and adding it to the SRRC agenda. The SRRC meets once a month.

Due to the impact Covid-19 is having, and the restrictions and disruptions to religious services and programming, CDCR reached out to ACCSS about collaborating to bring some religious/spiritual messaging to the inmates, via the institutional video system (we hope to be able to play these videos at DSH and other departments too, upon request). These videos began playing on the CDCR system, and will do so for 2 weeks each. Each video will have a 5-10 minute presentation from each of the five represented faith groups on the topics of “hope”, “respect” and “forgiveness”.

A big thank you to those who participated in the first three videos. If you are interested in being involved in the (potential) next video(s), reach out to your ACCSS representative.

As always, we are constantly on the lookout for ways to help the Chaplaincy strive and become better. We will continue to advocate for all matters pertaining to religious programming at a state-wide level.

Keep being the best you can be. We will overcome this, just as we have overcome all the obstacles that came before, better and stronger.

All the best,

Rabbi Benzion Lew