Dancing and Magic Shows Bring Joy to Riker’s Island

Riker’s Island inmates had a fully loaded Purim program with a megilla reading, mishloach manos to trade, and a full seuda for all to enjoy. The program lifted the inmate’s spirits even in the darkest of places

By Moishe Frankel

2:00 PM this past Thursday, I was walking up Kingston for Mincha, when I bumped into my friend Pinny. With a hard high-five, and slap on the back, Pinny said, “Hey Moishe! We missed you on Purim this year! Where were you?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know!” I said. “I Celebrated all 4 mitzvos of Purim on an Island, right off of LaGuardia Airport.”

“An Island?” Answered Pinny in amusement and confusion at the same time.

“Yup! Rikers Island!” 

“You mean to tell me that you landed yourself -“

I burst out laughing when I realized where he was going, “No Pinny! This Purim I had the zchus, of celebrating Purim, and doing the 4 mitzvos with our brothers behind bars. You have 2 minutes?”


 “Let me just explain to you a little bit, what it was like. Overwhelmingly uplifting. 

“I skipped into the room in a jolly, Purim mood. I walked over to some inmates and gave them a big, warm hug. In response to the hug, Dave told me” “You have no idea what this means to me. Receiving a hug from someone who really means it, makes me feel warm inside. We don’t get this to often here and, this just makes me feel human again.”

“No way! This is crazy stuff, and you just walked through the door,” said Pinny. “How does it work on Purim? You do all 4 Mitzvos?”

“Yes, Bh! The way it works, is we get in, we set up the room, and the program begins. During set up, the rest of us went around putting tefillin on everyone. We remind them how cherished they are. We show them how loved and valued they are, and just how important their neshama is. Just sitting side by side, looking straight in their eyes with love, and giving them hugs, brings it all home.”

“That’s so true.” Pinny added. “Sometimes we get so thrown off with the unimportant things. But in general in life, if we zoom out and realize what’s actually important and meaningful, we can accomplish so much in a much shorter amount of time.”

“Exactly.” I continued. “Kinda wild that it’s a visit to Rikers that reminds us about things like this. Anyway, with the start of the program, one of my friends read megilla, as we huddled around so we wouldn’t have to read it a second time. No matter how old we get, booing by Haman’s name is always fun. We all have that silent competition of who can get the last bang in before the leining continues.

“When we got to Shoshanas Yaakov, the music hit, and it was dancing time! Just imagine what it’s like to dance to the point where your shoes fall off. Kind of like when you’re at a wedding, and you need a break to grab a cup of water. Dancing in a circle, holding hands with yidden next to you, jumping up and down. No difference between my mitzvah, and the mitzvah of my brother next to me. Both extremely precious, bringing nachas ruach to Hashem and the Rebbe. In the moment of dancing and pure joy – I’m not sure who is happier – me, or the fellow on my right. Once we were all nice and dizzy from the somersaults, the music slowed down, and eventually stopped.

“Then we walked around with pushkas and coins, providing the inmates with the powerful mitzvah of Tzedakah on Purim. Mitzvah goreres mitzvah. From there we grabbed tons of Mishoach Manos, and passed them all out. We quickly explained the whole game exchange concept and how it works, and the yidden were delighted to perform this fun switch ‘n swap mitzvah. Their faces were glowing. It’s honestly nothing less than terrific – a simple group of yidden, behind bars, on a secluded island, performing a mitzvah together, and nonetheless joyfully. And here we go, Mivtzoyim on Rikers did it again – creating a feeling of total awe and inspiration for Hashem’s mitzvos and His special children. 

“This led right into the Mishteh. And Mishteh we do the whole way. Rolls, cold cuts, Challah dips, kiddush crackers, snacks, drinks, and most importantly, delicious, deluxe fish and meat knishes, so that the Mishteh can be observed B’hiddur. While talking and eating, we were happily interrupted, by an exhilarating magic show, of all different kinds of stunts and crazy tricks. 

“Another really cool moment, was reading Parshas Zachor from the Torah. The last time they saw a Torah, was when our group came on Chanukah. Under these circumstances, getting an Aliyah at the Torah is not an opportunity to be taken lightly. Someone standing next to me, commented that the tune of the leining reminded him of his childhood at home. 

“We spent the last few minutes of the mishteh schmoozing and farbrenging about Purim. And get this – we were pleasantly surprised with the performance of a solo violinist who led us in Ani Ma’amin. We always sing Ani Ma’amin, but never with a violin. Of course we stood, arms around each other, and I caught myself thinking about what we’re saying, where were standing, and who were singing with. That created this two-sided feeling and experience. One of pain, sadness, loneliness, and at the same time strength, hope, direction, connection, and faith. The yidden we came to visit, lined up, to head back. We wished them well, and told them were looking forward to seeing them on the outside! 

“It was a long and busy day. When I got back onto the bus, I fell right into my seat. My body exhausted. My feet aching. But Pinny, it was the good kind of exhaustion, and the good kind of ache. What else can be more rewarding?”

I looked down at my watch, “Oh my! It’s way past 2 minutes, and you’re probably in a rush -“

“Moishe wow! OK, you’re right, I am in a rush, but I’m sold! How do I get involved? I’d love to join next time.”

“For that”, I said with a grin, “you need to donate 3 times first, then get entered into a raffle to be the next, bochur to join. I’m just kidding. Sure, hit me up next time we go.”

“Great, see you soon” said Pinny, as he gave me a fist bump. I turned around and headed to mincha.

I’d like to give a special thank you to Rabbi Kastel and the auspices of Lubavitch Youth Organization. A major thank you to Rabbi Zalman Tevel for spearheading and investing so much into this peula. Thank you to the chaplains of Rikers Island; Rabbi Hecht, Rabbi Gavriel Kretzmer-Seed, and Rabbi Mia Simring for all you do to ensure that the Jews on Rikers Island have their Religious needs met. Thank you Yossi Cohen for coming and creating magic in the air with your music.  

In addition to the sarcastic joke to Pinny, we do take donations to help us cover the costs of this event and our future activities at Rikers. If you’d like to partner with us, Zelle or Qwick pay to [email protected]. Please put in the subject line ‘Purim Mivtzoyim.’ 

Don’t underestimate the power of a small donation!

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