From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

Justice That Heals

The true perfection of man lies not in what man has, but in what man is.

Oscar Wilde

Being a district attorney is not always easy, but this one found a brilliant way to heal many wounds.

One morning, the members of Temple B’nai Jeshurun of Des Moines, Iowa, awoke to find neo-Nazi graffiti and swastikas scrawled on their synagogue. The perpetrators were a nineteen-year-old male member of the Aryan Nation and his seventeen-year-old girlfriend. They were charged with felonies for their hate crime, and under ordinary circumstances would have been sentenced and jailed, no doubt deepening their hatred and assuring them a life of alienation and conflict.

A deputy district attorney, Fred Gay, approached the temple’s rabbi, Steven Fink, with an idea. Would the temple membership be interested in meeting with the two perpetrators to explain the damage done by their hate crime and to work out a sentence? The temple leadership agreed to meet.

Present at the meeting were the two offenders and six members of the temple leadership, including two Holocaust survivors and a former Israeli military officer. It was soon discovered that the boy was from a broken home, a ninety-eight-pound weakling with a hearing disability. When he was sixteen, he had run away from home and was taken in by the Aryan nation. The girl was unsure of herself and had no idea what neo-Nazi meant.

Many raged that the two should have the book thrown at them, while others argued that throwing them in jail would just create two more hardened criminals. After heated debate, the parties agreed that the harm could be repaired if the offenders complied with the following: The two defendants were to do one hundred hours of service for the synagogue under the supervision of the temple’s custodian, one hundred hours of study of Judaism and its history with the rabbi, a referral to a hearing specialist for the young man, a requirement that he remove the Nazi tattoos on his arms, and attainment of employment skills and psychological assessment of both the offenders, as well as fulfillment of requirements for a GED. After successful completion of this, the charges would be dismissed.

Instead of going to jail, they learned Jewish history and culture, their personal needs were met, and while working with the wise custodian, they gained confidence in themselves, finished their high-school equivalency exams, got married and had a child. Rabbi Fink and the custodian were invited to their wedding.

David Lerman

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