Aleph Institute recently launched Project 432, an education and awareness initiative that promotes ethical behavior and financial integrity within our communities.
By: Rafi Chemel
“An ounce of prevention,” the expression goes, “is worth a pound of cure.” No matter how effective one is at responding to a crisis, the best course of action is to take the steps necessary to prevent the crisis from occurring in the first place.
Ever since its inception, Aleph Institute has responded to the needs of those impacted by incarceration and the criminal justice system. From advocating for the religious and civil rights of people in prison, to helping the families of those incarcerated with emotional and financial support, to helping children with a parent behind bars attend summer camp, Aleph reacts with unconditional love for those affected by these crises.
But now, the organization has developed a new approach to the challenge of facing the criminal justice system. “We sat with past Aleph clients to understand what really went wrong,” explains Rabbi Levi Landa, the Director of Awareness and Education at Aleph.
“The people Aleph helps are hardly ever hardened criminals. They are everyday people like you and me who did something wrong that carried enormous consequences for them and their families. We wanted to understand, with the benefit of hindsight, what happened. What were the root causes? And – most importantly – was the outcome inevitable, or could it have been avoided?” Through a series of in-depth interviews, Aleph learned that so much of the heartbreaking fallout could have been prevented had those individuals been more aware and, in some cases, better educated.
Inspired by these findings, Aleph launched Project 432, an education and awareness initiative that promotes ethical behavior and financial integrity within our communities. Rabbi Zvi Boyarsky, Aleph’s Director of National Policy, was a driving force behind launching the initiative. From his perspective, “even one person in our community interacting with the criminal justice system is one too many. The fallout is enormous and devastating, and the saddest part of it all is that so many of those cases could have been prevented. Project 432 is our effort to address the core of the issue.”
Through curriculums, workshops, podcasts, articles, conference sessions, and media campaigns, Project 432 aims to inspire people to pay more attention to the Torah’s view on interpersonal ethics and compliance with the law. Already, their message is starting to resonate within the community. After an episode aired on the Halachic Headlines Podcast, one listener called in to share how he was inspired to evaluate his behavior. “I had a job in something that, let’s just say, was in a gray area. After listening to your episode on the subject, I called my Rov and described to him what I was doing. He told me I needed to stop doing it immediately, and I did…thank you for opening my eyes.”
This model of preventative education and awareness has been an aspiration of Aleph since its inception more than four decades ago. When Aleph’s founder, Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, together with Judge Jack Weinstein, came to the Rebbe and shared their plans to advocate at the Federal Sentencing Committee for fairer prison sentencing, the Rebbe responded, “May you go from strength to strength and to reach the time when there will be no prisons, only preventative education, to prevent people from going astray from the right way.”
With the launch of Project 432, this aspiration is becoming a reality. “We always knew it was core to our mission,” says Rabbi Aaron Lipskar, Aleph’s CEO. “While we have created different educational programs and materials in the past, Project 432 is the most comprehensive and far-reaching program in this effort. We are excited to be turning the Rebbe’s vision into reality.”
Of course, the conversation is different for each audience the project targets. “We believe that there is a way to talk about this subject at every age and stage,” says Rabbi Yossi Charytan from the project’s education team. “Building an ethical muscle starts at a young age and is something that can and should be exercised throughout life.”
For the 540 eighth grade students already signed up for Project 432’s “Yesodos” curriculum, the focus is on standing up to peer pressure and doing what is right. Rabbi Yossi Bryski, a rabbi at Oholei Torah, taught a pilot of the curriculum at the end of this past academic year. “I was initially skeptical,” he says, “as to how my eighth-grade students would react to this course, but it was fantastic; the students were very engaged, the conversations extremely productive, and the lessons hit home hard!”
Meanwhile, the 1100+ mesivta and high school students who have taken part in the project’s “Compass Workshop” learned about everyday examples where it is easy to excuse and rationalize unethical behavior and what the consequences of those behaviors can be.
Rabbi Shlomo Gottesman, the rosh yeshiva of mesivta of Greater Los Angeles, was proud to have brought the program to his mesivta. “Our talmidim absorbed that ehrlechkeit, yashrus, and honesty are fundamental aspects of avodas Hashem,” he wrote in a letter to other yeshivos. “It is our duty to ensure that our talmidim are taught these yesodos, and ensure that they lead upright lives as is befitting for bnei Torah.”
On the adult education end, Project 432 has been spreading its message through podcasts, articles, and coordinating presentations at industry-specific conferences. At a back-to-back session during this year’s kinnus hashluchim, over 100 shluchim gathered to discuss best practices for ethical fundraising and nonprofit governance. Close to 1,000 businessmen participated in crisis management and ethical leadership sessions at three other conferences.
Project 432 has already been applauded by many across the Jewish community as an innovative and necessary initiative. “[It] is perhaps one of the most important programs sponsored by this extraordinary organization to date,” says Ben Brafman, a renowned criminal defense attorney and friend of the organization.
“Reaching out to our educational facilities is a recognition that ethics and fundamental integrity cannot only be taught to adults but must also be stressed in our Yeshiva high schools as well.” Beyond his voice of support, Mr. Brafman has taken an active role in the project by joining the advisory committee made up of over 20 rabbonim and laymen, presenting at high school and yeshiva workshops, and even penning an occasional column on behalf of the project in Ami magazine.
Looking beyond its initial success, Project 432 hopes to expand its reach further. A business ethics course, legal education for shluchim and other frum organizations, video content, conference events, and yiddish language programming are all in development. “This is about much more than preventing crime,” says Landa. “We want to shine a light on the Torah’s perspective on honesty, integrity, and financial responsibility.”
The initiative was called Project 432 precisely for this reason. The 432nd mitzvah in the Torah (according to the Sefer HaChinuch’s counting) is the mitzvah of being in awe of Hashem. “Our reverence for the Aibeshter can be reflected in our behavior in the boardroom or when filling out a form as much as it is in the Bais Medrash,” continues Landa. “We can aspire to a higher standard in this area. As a community, we look to raise the bar in so many areas. We do it for kashrus, for tzedaka giving, for appropriate technology use, and for advancing limmud hatorah. Why not do it here?”
To learn more about Aleph’s Project 432, bring a workshop or curriculum to a school, or learn about opportunities to volunteer, please visit p432.org or [email protected].