President Reuven Rivlin visited half way houses this week, ahead of the Yom Kippur holiday, to meet with recently released prisoners, including one to whom he granted clemency earlier this year.
A statement from his office said Rivlin made the visits “as part of the month of forgiveness and repentance that leads up to Yom Kippur,” the Jewish Day of Atonement.
At the halfway house for women, Rivlin met with Dalal Daud, a woman who served 18 years of a life sentence for killing her abusive husband before being released on a presidential pardon.
“We must make sure that women are listened to before they are judged. If I had found someone to listen to me, just one person, someone to help me, I would not have gone through everything that I have. Prison does not rehabilitate people who have suffered violence. Real rehabilitation happens here,” she told the president.
Rivlin commuted Daoud’s life term in 2017 but the parole board refused to release her until June of this year.
Anti-domestic violence activists had long lobbied for Daoud’s release, saying she was the victim of physical and mental abuse by her husband and was given little to no support by welfare authorities.
Daoud has been living at the halfway house since her release four months ago, and, during Monday’s visit told Rivlin of her efforts to re-enter the workforce and transition to independent living.
She also told Rivlin of the deep impression his late wife Nechama left on her when she visited the Neve Tirza women’s prison. When Nechama Rivlin was hospitalized Daoud said she sent her a letter thanking her for the “warmth and understanding” she had shown on every visit to the prison.
Nehama Rivlin died in June at the age of 73 after relapsing following a lung transplant in March.
Rivlin spoke to the women about the importance of forgiveness and rehabilitation for criminal offenders.
“After the month of Selichot – penitential prayers – and during the ten days of repentance, this is the time for forgiveness: to request it and to grant it, as individuals and as a society,” Rivlin told the women.
“Forgiveness cannot turn back the clock, but it can soften the hardest hearts and bring down barriers between people,” he said.
Rivlin later visited a halfway house and day center for young people recently released from prison. The center provides job training and educational courses for 1,000 or so juvenile offenders who are released from detention centers in Israel each year.
One of the young men at the center told the president that meeting him several years ago while he was in prison as a teen was so encouraging that it inspired him to change his life.
“I joined the prison’s theater group and I ended up performing for you at [the President’s Residence]. I still remember how you told me to carry on and to become an actor because I am talented, and that gave me strength,” the man identified as S said. “I have changed, I have made progress and I am continuing to do so. Today I am a chef in a hotel and already a shift manager, and continue to act.”
As he left, Rivlin encouraged the young people to stay enrolled in the center’s programs and continue their efforts to rehabilitate their lives.
“We are desperate to have you back as full members of society, people who contribute, living among us after you have left your past behind. Don’t give up on yourselves – we are not giving up on you,” he said.