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Statement of Mark J. Pelavin Associate Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism on the 4th Anniversary of the Sentencing of Lori Berenson to Life Imprisonment
January 11, 2000

Today is a day which we had hoped would never come — the fourth anniversary of Lori Berenson's sentencing to life in a Peruvian jail. Four years. I have a four-year-old son, Daniel. As I read him a book last night, and tucked him into his bed, I thought of all the joy he has brought to my life. I thought of how, in what seems like such a short time, his life and mine have changed so much. And I could not help but think of Mark and Rhoda Berenson, who have been deprived of their child for over four years — longer than my Daniel has been alive.

Just as the youth of my son inspires me to be here, so do the ancient words of my tradition. The redemption of captives is a widely-recognized duty throughout Jewish texts. Maimonides, a great Jewish philosopher, instructs us that we must work to free those held unjustly captive, teaching that the redemption of captives is among our most important obligations, above even helping the poor. And the Talmud tells us that to raise the necessary funds to help rescue someone from prison we may go to the extreme extent of selling a Torah scroll, our most sacred object. In that spirit, let us resolve today to organize and to work, to protest and to prod, until Lori receives justice.

Today, in cities across the nation, in search of justice for Lori, we come together to say: enough. Let our message be clear:

  • To President Fujimori and the Government of Peru we say: Lori's trial was a sham, her conviction is unsupported, and her treatment has been unjust;

  • To Secretary of State Albright, the U.S. Administration, and the Congress we say: Your voices, too, must be heard calling for Lori's release. The time has come for the United States to be more aggressive in protecting Lori's rights;

  • To Mark and Rhoda Berenson we say: Our thoughts and prayers are with you. You have raised a remarkable child, committed to helping the poor and downtrodden. Her determination, even while imprisoned, is an inspiration. May you, soon, again welcome Lori to your home.

  • To Lori we say: Do not despair. Know that just as you were dedicated to working on behalf of others, we are working to secure justice for you.

For four years Lori has been unjustly imprisoned. This gathering is an important beginning to an again-renewed campaign for justice for Lori. May we succeed this year, and may this be the last such anniversary we have to mark.


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, representing its 895 congregations across North America, whose membership includes 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the 1700 rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

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