Pauline Ledeen, 'Bubbe Teresa' and Prison Volunteer, Dies

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Pauline Leeden celebrated Passover and brought grandmotherly care to Jewish inmates in California's jails and prisons. She died last month at the age of 97. NPR's Scott Simon talks with Carrie Newman, who was one of those prisoners.


Bubbe Teresa will be remembered in a memorial service in Los Angeles this week. Her given name was Pauline Weinstein Ledeen, and she died last month at the age of 97. For 40 years, Pauline Ledeen celebrated Passover, brought grandmotherly concern, everything but chicken soup, and maybe even that to Jewish inmates in California's jails and prisons.

Carrie Newman was one of those prisoners. She's now the alternative sentencing coordinator at Congregation Beit T'Shuvah, an addiction treatment center where Pauline Ledeen volunteered. And Carrie Newman joins us from Sun Valley, Idaho. Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. CARRIE NEWMAN (Alternative Sentencing Coordinator, Congregation Beit T'Shuvah): Thank you.

SIMON: How did you meet her, may I ask?

Ms. NEWMAN: I met her once when I was myself going in and out of jail. I really got to know her after she helped to orchestrate my being able to go to Beit T'Shuvah to recover from my own addictions.

SIMON: May I ask what were you in and out of prison for?

Ms. NEWMAN: Mostly drug charges - all drug charges actually.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. How did she find the prisoners? I mean, do you put up a sign? Do you…

Ms. NEWMAN: No. And most Jewish prisoners don't identify right away because there is some anti-Semitism in the jails. She would sit at the Los Angeles County Jail poring over one of those old-fashioned computer printouts of 20,000 names then she would present a list to the social workers to go and check and see if these people that she found were Jewish and wanted Jewish services.

SIMON: When you say wanted Jewish services is that as simple as Jewish counseling, or is there something else involved?

Ms. NEWMAN: If they wanted to see the rabbi, if they wanted to attend any holiday services like Passover or High Holy Days, reaching out to families, many different things.

SIMON: What's a Passover like in prison?

Ms. NEWMAN: It was the highlight of being in such an awful place. And each Passover when I think about exodus from slavery, I recall that Passover in the Los Angeles County Jail.

SIMON: Can you give us some idea of what she was like when she visited people, what it was like to be with her, what she asked, how she was?

Ms. NEWMAN: She was a surprise because when you are in jail, the visits you get are from attorneys and social workers also, but she was so grandmotherly. And she championed my recovery, and rooted me on as I went to college later to get my degree in criminology. Two, three weeks before she passed away, she was asking me when I was going back to get my masters.

SIMON: She continues to do this work into her late 90s.

Ms. NEWMAN: She supposedly retired last year at 96, but I know she was still corresponding with some of the inmates. One of the things I've heard said, if Judaism had saints, Pauline would be our patron saint.

SIMON: Carrie Newman is the alternative sentencing coordinator at Beit T'Shuvah in Los Angeles. Thanks very much for speaking with us.

Ms. NEWMAN: Thank you so much. It is an honor to speak of Pauline.

SIMON: Well, Pauline Ledeen's memorial service will be held at Beit T'Shuvah on Wednesday.

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