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Valley Beit Midrash - What’s A Nice Jewish Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This? Jews, Prison and Spirituality

Thursday, June 20, 2024 14 Sivan 5784

2:00 PM - 3:00 PM


For the last twenty-eight years Elaine Leeder has been working in prisons, first at Elmira Correctional Facility, then San Quentin, and now in prisons all over the state of California. Her teaching, then running self-help groups and now doing Victim/Offender Dialogues, has shown her that there is redemption, remorse and contrition behind the walls. People can be transformed even in the most oppressive of circumstances.

Leeder will discuss the Jewish values like TeshuvahChesed and Tikkun Olam that deeply inform her work. She will describe the forgiveness she sees in victims (or victims’ families) for some of the most horrendous of crimes like murder, kidnapping, rape and robbery. Her presentation will focus on real situations that will inspire and touch you and you in profound ways. Her own growth has been deeply informed by these powerful stories.


Elaine (Sneierson) Leeder is a Professor Emerita of Sociology and the Dean Emerita of the School of Social Sciences at Sonoma State University. Previously she was a Professor at Ithaca College, Ithaca NY. She has 48 years of distinguished accomplishments and experience in academia and public service. Leeder is listed in Who’s Who of America Women, Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who of American Teachers. Her awards include a National Endowment of the Humanities Fellowship, Visiting Scholar status at the United States Holocaust Museum, outstanding teaching awards, research and travel grants and numerous awards from student and community agencies. She is a co-founder of the Jewish Studies program and the producer of the Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove and the Anne Frank tree installation at Sonoma State University. Leeder has an MSW from Yeshiva University, an MPH from University of California at Berkeley and a PhD from Cornell University, has published six books and numerous articles. Her book The Family in Global Perspective: A Gendered Journey is based on her Semester at Sea voyages in 1992, 1999 and 2013. One of her books My Life with Lifers: Lessons for a Teacher, Humanity Has No Bars describes her work in prisons in NY and CA where she taught, ran groups and now does victim-offender dialogues. Her exemplary career encompasses roles as professor/teacher, psychotherapist, consultant, author and advocate for social justice. Visit her at

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Sun, June 16 2024 10 Sivan 5784