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Ernest G. Michel

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Background Information

Employment History


Jewish News of Greater Phoenix


Jewish News of Greater Phoenix



State Representative



Maricopa County Sheriff's Office



Web References (12 Total References)

Chaplain's mission [cached]

Rabbi Ernest MichelRabbi Ernest Michel has served as a chaplain in Arizona jails since 1982.Photo courtesy of Rabbi Ernest Michel

A lone rabbi circulates among inmates roaming unrestricted on a lockdown ward.A neo-Nazi tracks his movements, suddenly approaches, and thrusts his shoulder into the man's face, displaying a swastika tattoo.Ernest G. Michel, the target of this inmate's hatred, merely places a tempered, experienced hand on the arm and says, "Gee, what a beautiful Indian design.When did you get it?"
"Ernie," a short, animated man with a gray goatee, lives unassumingly, surrounded by books that have been the cornerstone of his life's work for the past 50 years.One of the few disturbances in his day is the beeper he carries on his waist.
Michel was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1920 under the hateful gaze of European anti-Semitism.As a 1-year-old, he learned his first hard lesson about human cruelty.His parents, fleeing Polish occupation, hid Michel in a pushcart, the family dog wrapped around his body.As they approached the border, they were stopped by soldiers who immediately thrust swords through the cart in an attempt to kill the child.Seeing blood, they were satisfied their mission had been accomplished.Only later did the parents discover the dead dog.
Michel was a personal witness of Hitler youth marches.From the Juden (Jew) benches in the back of European classrooms, he experienced the harsh realities of anti-Semitism firsthand.At times, he was hanged from the neck by wet towels in the closets of these "halls of higher learning."In defiance of Nazi occupation, he joined a Czech resistance group.
In 1938, Michel's family escaped the impending terror of the Holocaust.Then 18, he arrived via freighter in San Pedro, Calif., the Los Angeles Harbor.Ironically, health concerns caused Michel's first stop to be an American jail cell, where he was qua-rantined overnight.Upon release, he received his first taste of freedom at a local soda fountain before heading to Boyle Heights, the "Jewish section" of Los Angeles in the 1930s.With little experience in America's language or culture, Michel moved from job to job.After early education as a civil engineer, he settled in the printing business.He later found his calling - the rabbinate.
The chaplain says we should learn from our mistakes and he doesn't believe in judging others.Michel explains this philosophy in heavily accented English: "People are nice if you give them a chance.
Michel says, "Don't talk silly."He explains, "I try to talk him out of it."Michel offers reassurance, "You've got a lot of time yet, you're still young.
Despite the provisions for Jewish inmates, Michel insists "I talk to any inmate if I can help out and make their stay easier."He carries slips of paper with prayers from multiple denominations facilitating worship with inmates of any religion."I am a chaplain first and a rabbi second."
A veteran of the system, Michel is no longer bothered by its red tape and occasional anti-Semitism.It is his own health that limits the time he devotes to inmates.Some days require that he see upwards of 30 prisoners.Arthritis makes commutes to jails through muddy parking lots difficult.
Michel believes that everything can be changed - from the system to the inmates.The human aspect is important to him."They must be treated as human beings."The rabbi has observed that detention officers become "like kings" - they are trained to protect themselves and handle difficult inmates, but "are not taught how to handle human beings."Michel is concerned that they are taught "to speak louder but not kinder."In an effort to modify this behavior, the rabbi tries to impart his ideals of kindness to young officers.In effect, Michel is trying to expand the role of the chaplain from someone who deals only with religion to someone who can facilitate better interaction between inmates and prison staff.This belief motivates him to continue his work for as long as he can."I keep doing the work because God says I should," he says.
His commitment to the inmates does not end when they are released.He understands that inmates have a tough time reentering society, but he never compromises his philosophy.
The skinhead who displayed the swastika now greets Michel with a smile and a look of respect."I turned him from bad to semi-good."Respect is a word the rabbi holds close to his heart.Michel recalls a time he told inmates that he could flip any man in the jail using the judo he learned in the armed services.He even takes the occasional sexual proposition in stride.
Michel believes anti-Semitism, like any hatred, should be dealt with through respect.
Michel believes he was saved from the Holocaust and the terrors of World War II, and is grateful for his second chances.He feels he is repaying God through his chaplaincy.The rabbi believes that hatred makes one sick, but forgiveness can heal.This is the philosophy he takes into the jails and into society at large."I am an ambassador of God," he says.He thinks society should learn to forgive mistakes, including the misdeeds of inmates.
Rabbi Michel welcomes volunteers.Contact him at 602-953-3060.

Other Religious Resources [cached]

Ernest G. Michel, Chaplain, ICPC602-953-3060, Beeper: 602-673-2517 - ICPC regional and state leaders - icpc_regions.html [cached]

Ernest G. Michel

Rabbi Ernest Michel, a ... [cached]

Rabbi Ernest Michel, a chaplain for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, visits inmates about 20 hours each week. "The Jewish com-munity could use at least two more chaplains in the jail system," he said. Michel, who has served as a chaplain in Arizona jails since 1982, is currently looking to train somebody to assist him. Call 602-953-3060.

Rabbi Ernest G. Michel, ... [cached]

Rabbi Ernest G. Michel, former county jail chaplain

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