Passover Letter to Prison 5783 (2023)

David Ben Moshe
4 min readApr 5, 2023

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Dear Person,

Yesterday, I was eating at my in-law’s house, and My father in law asked me to think about how my personal story can be related to the story of the Exodus, in preparation for our Passover Seder. Thinking about the Passover story, the idea of bondage instantly comes to mind — something that I think about every single day.

Every time I see someone drinking instant coffee (which is hugely popular in Israel, where I now live), I remember the gallons of Taster’s Choice I drank out of a clear plastic mug that I had to heat in the microwave. Every time I see a G-Shock watch ( strangely also popular in Israel), I remember that it was the fanciest watch available from the prison commissary.

Earlier yesterday morning, I noticed my copy of Maus, the graphic novel about the Holocaust, on our table. My wife said that after I had gone to sleep, her sister’s boyfriend had asked about it. He had never heard of it, my wife explained that it wasn’t a well-known book in Israel, and she first saw it on her father’s, an American expat, bookshelf.

I wanted to tell her that I discovered the book in prison — I didn’t. There is an entire section of my bookshelf dedicated to books that I discovered in prison — I see them and remember, but I don’t talk about it. Just as I don’t talk about the angst which has followed me from the cell block. The angst I always see out of the corner of my eye, except when rage narrows my vision.

April 25 will mark 11 years since I left FCI Petersburg and took the bus to a halfway house in Baltimore. I still haven’t adjusted. The Jewish sages teach that it is a biblical commandment to remember the Exodus from Egypt every day. I doubt that many people understand that if they truly fulfilled the commandment written in the Haggadah — to personally feel as if they left Egypt — it would be impossible not to think about it every single day. Bondage is a stain that fades but cannot be erased.

This is not to say that I have never found peace. There were times sitting outside of my cell studying that I felt something change — it was like the book I held transformed into a shield that could protect me from any attack. I remember times in prison writing with a flimsy plastic pen, and it suddenly became a flaming sword I could use to conquer any challenge.

I am often frustrated by the distractions of life. Sometimes I want to lock myself away from the world with some books, instant coffee, ramen, and a microwave. I want to put on my headphones and pace back and forth in my room between sets of push-ups, using torn bits of paper to keep count of the endless sets to pass the time.

People often tell me that I am an inspiration. They tell me about how much I have achieved since my release and are impressed by the obstacles I have overcome. I try to ignore them. I don’t want to celebrate, I want to work. I don’t want to reminisce on old chapters, I want to write new ones.

I have read the story of the Exodus many times. The lesson I hear from others is about being rescued from bondage, about the joys of freedom, and about entering the promised land. But they forget about the desert. Almost no one makes it to the promised land, not even Moshe Rabbenu. Almost everyone released from bondage dies in the desert.

Freedom is a moment, a moment worth celebrating. But the next challenge is waiting, and if you let your guard down, it will eat you alive.

And most people forget those who didn’t make it out. I can’t forget them. Even with a short (30 month) sentence, I spent too much time wondering if I would make it out — or if I was entering the endless revolving door. I am blessed to have made it out and stayed out, and I am trying hard to be one of the few who make it out of the wilderness to the promised land.

I want you to know wherever you find yourself on your Exodus journey, whether you’re on short time or the judge sentenced you to die in prison, peace is always accessible. Even though the challenges won’t end until you return to the dirt, peace is always possible.

It might feel as if it is as far away from you as the East is from the West. But it is more like the distance between Heaven and Earth, they also never touch, but there is no barrier and you can move from one to the other in an instant.

David Ben Moshe

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Written at the request of a Tzadik in Washington D.C. who regularly visits people incarcerated in prison.

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