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A Jewish reporter goes inside Rikers for a new book on a notorious jail



(New York Jewish Week) — Reuven Blau, son of a Holocaust survivor, suggests his father may have inspired him to strive for change within New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail.

“There’s this subconscious drive to change things, or to help people in a way that you don’t understand,” said Blau. “Inside Rikers, you realize how difficult it is, and how terrible the circumstances are for everyone involved.” 

A reporter for The City who studied at a yeshiva in Brooklyn, Blau is the co-author, with Graham Rayman, of “Rikers: An Oral History,” a new book on a jail that makes frequent headlines for the violence and despair trapped within its walls. The book seeks to humanize the people inside the jail — both inmates and the people who work there — and tell their stories.  

Its aim, Blau told the New York Jewish Week, is to amplify the voices of “people who are rarely seen as people,” he said.  

The jail complex, which opened in 1932, has long been criticized for its harsh conditions, which include horror stories of inmates caged in tiny showers, sleeping on excrement-smeared floors, suicides, beatings and more. Many have called for its closure since the 1970s. As of Dec. 14, 19 people died at Rikers in 2022 — the highest death rate since 2013. 

Rikers Island, the jail complex located in the East River that has been open since 1932, is the site of a constant stream of violent news and headlines over the past few decades. (The City/Ben Fractenberg)

The reporters spent close to three years interviewing about 130 people, with most of the conversations taking place over the phone or in person with people already out of jail. They also made several trips to the jail complex.

One of the people they spoke with was Rabbi Gabriel Kretzmer Seed, a Jewish chaplain on Rikers. Seed spoke about singing Shabbat songs with an inmate who suddenly got up and punched him.  

“He was a pretty strong person, but I only ended up with a bloody lip. He might have been mumbling something, but I don’t remember what he said specifically. I was quite shocked. Everything happened so quickly,” Seed said. “I was totally in shock because I had known him for a while and he was the last person I thought would hurt me.”

Seed then remarked that he was able to work with mental health staff and ultimately managed to have a good relationship with the inmate after the incident.

“It was such a revealing story, how there are people who are there to help others,” Blau said. “And they become aware of how people are misplaced there.”

Prior to joining The City, Blau had worked at the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Despite his deep reporting experience, Blau, 43, noted that it’s been “the weirdest thing” to become the “voice” of Rikers. “I’m this whole yeshiva guy,” Blau said. “I’d never been to jail. It wasn’t an issue I was familiar with at all in any way.”

Blau, who grew up in Denver and went to a yeshiva high school in Chicago, said that he remains observant. “Big cholent fan,” said Blau, who lives in New Jersey with his wife, Sara, who had a baby girl in May. “My favorite part of the culture is the social service network that exists in many communities.” 

He fell into reporting after majoring in English at Brooklyn College. Before working for the tabloids, Blau wrote for The Chief, a newspaper dedicated to labor and local politics, where he covered the union that represents New York’s corrections officers, among other things.  

In 2011, he landed a scoop with the Post about a “jailhouse bar mitzvah” which revealed that correction officers and supervisors attended a lavish Jewish coming-of-age cermony behind bars at a downtown Manhattan jail whose costs were carried by taxpayers.

“I always had some foot in the jail coverage,” Blau said of his time working in the news industry. 

His co-writer, Rayman, covers criminal justice for the Daily News. Rayman told the New York Jewish Week that he doesn’t think people can read the book and “come away with a feeling that anything other than that particular jail system is deeply flawed and in need of major changes.” 

The city is required by law to close Rikers Island by 2027, yet many are casting doubt over whether that will be possible. 

“I really hope that there’s not a journalist behind me in 20 or 30 years that is writing about the same issues, because I think that means the coverage we’ve been doing hasn’t made an effect,” Blau said. “I look at it through that lens. I try to come up with ways that are going to change things for the better in a real meaningful way.” 

The post A Jewish reporter goes inside Rikers for a new book on a notorious jail appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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