Two weeks ago, Rabbi Eli Hecht was transferred to a prison further away from Madrid. The move was apparently called for by the administration of the Soto del Real jail, on the grounds that too many instructions were given to them on the handling of Eli Hecht.
Terrified during the first two days of his stay at the new prison, Hecht kept to himself. Some of the 1,200 inmates are convicted Al-Qaida operatives.
Last week, Hecht was visited by a number of activist working in his behalf. During the visit of Madrid’s Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Ben-Zaken, the rabbi spoke with the head warden of the new prison, and explained to him the unusual predicament of Rabbi Hecht. Rabbi Ben-Zaken emphasized the importance that Eli be allwoed to Daven and continue receiving Kosher food. Rabbi Ben-Zaken played a crucial role in securing Hecht’s permission to have Tefilin and Kosher food in his previous jail.
The rabbi also told the directors of Hecht’s troubles with a television on Shabbos, and the many immodest images hung up by fellow inmates.
The prison warden was extremely moved by Rabbi Ben-Zaken’s words and went with the rabbi to meet Hecht personally in his cell. The warden said he was deeply impressed by Hecht’s “positive personality and integrity”.
Subsequent to their encounter, Eli was moved to a different wing of the prison, housing no terrorists. He was also granted permission to use his Tefilin whenever he wanted to. The warden went as far as to give Eli his own cell, so he will not be disturbed by the television and coarse talk of his fellow inmates.
Rabbi Ben-Zaken brough a large quantity of Kosher food which Eli was allowed to keep. The warden told the rabbi that he could feel free to continue to bring the food packages in the future.
In the cell next to his, another Jewish prisoner is locked away. Rabbi Hecht has began sharing his Tefilin with him and studying on a regular basis with him.
“It seems to me that this whole nightmare has befallen me so I could come into contact with this Jew and the three others in this prison,” Hecht told RabbI Ben-Zaken, reminding him of the famous story of the Shpola Zeide.
When Rabbi Ben-Zaken informed Hecht that he had brought grape juice for him, and that after three months, eh would finally be able to make Kiddush on Shabbos, Hecht lost control of himself and broke out into tears.
Rabbi Ben-Zaken explained that prison regulations ban glass in the jail, as well as potentially alcoholic beverages. But the faithful rabbi made his case to the warden and was assisted in this instance too.
During his many lectures throughout Spain, Rabbi Ben-Zaken uses the opportunity to remind people of Rabbi Hecht’s plight, and of his self-sacrifice for performing Mitzvos. Rabbi Ben-Zaken attests to the great religious awakening his story has triggered, when people hear of true dedication to one’s faith.
Eli’s optimism left a deep impact on Rabbi Ben-Zaken who said he was simply “left without words” when Eli told him he’s not worried one bit for his welfare.
The “Action Committee” pledges to assist them in pursuing the best legal treatment possible for Eli. They say his situation is complicated and will need much financial support. To find out how to help, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tefillos should be said for Eliyahu Rachamim ben Rachel.