MK: Hi Shoshana! Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you entered the world of law?

SH: I was born and bred in Mexico City, Mexico, as a member of the tight-knit Syrian-Jewish community. It wasn’t common in those days for a girl in my community to continue her education after high school; most of my friends got married at the age of 17 or 18. But I was always passionate and intrigued by law, so with my parents’ support, I attended law school in Mexico City.

While still a student, I interned at a criminal law firm. I would commute back and forth from university to the police station to the prison to the courthouse. Criminal law became my speciality, and I remained at the firm for 10 more years. In 2012, I married Jonathan Delgadillo, a fellow criminal lawyer, and we had five beautiful children together, thank G‑d. I recently took a pause from practicing law to focus on raising my children and volunteering for the Aleph Institute.

MK: How were you introduced to the Aleph Institute?

SH: In January 2020, my close relative was arrested in the United States. Despite the fact that my husband and I are both criminal defense lawyers, we were not equipped to help him because the American legal system is different from Mexico’s. We reached out to the Chabad shliach in the city where my relative was arrested, and he connected us with Rabbi Joshua Bruck from the Aleph Institute.

Rabbi Bruck stood by our side through every step of the painful journey from my relative’s arraignment to sentencing to incarceration. He literally came to the courthouse with us so we wouldn’t be alone. He also helped arrange kosher food and tefillin for my relative behind bars, and found out when he would be transferred from one prison to the next. Our own lawyers couldn’t get us that information, but somehow Aleph—with their determination to help—could.

My relative was arrested just as the Covid pandemic began. Prisons went into lockdown, forcing inmates to remain indoors 24/7 in terrible conditions. No visits were allowed and hardly any showers. Aleph was the only one able to bring my relative any comfort during this chaotic time. I had Rabbi Menachem Katz from Aleph’s number on speed dial and called him whenever my relative was having an issue. He was freezing cold. Or he hadn’t left his cell in days. Or he had no access to soap. Each time, Rabbi Katz managed to help.

We were blown away by Aleph—that kind of selflessness and compassion just doesn’t exist anywhere else in the criminal justice arena.

MK: How did you get involved with religious advocacy?

SH: One day, I got a call from Rabbi Lipa Boyarsky, who heads Aleph’s International Advocacy Division. There was an Israeli man in a Mexican prison who wanted to put on tefillin, but the prison was not allowing it. Rabbi Boyarsky asked if I might leverage my knowledge of the legal system and language to help. Of course, I said yes!

Baruch Hashem, we were able to get this man permission to don tefillin daily, as well as receive kosher food. From there, one case led to the next, and I’ve been involved in many religious advocacy cases for Jews incarcerated all over Latin America. As someone who has been on the receiving end of Aleph’s generosity, I am deeply grateful to be able to give back and make a difference for others the way Aleph did for my family.

Shoshona Husny
Shoshona Husny

MK: Can you describe some of the religious advocacy cases you have dealt with?

SH: There is a man named Yosef* imprisoned in Colombia. Colombian prisons are notorious for their violence, inhumane conditions and corruption. Yosef needed access to kosher food.

Together with Aleph, I prepared letters and documents and multiple requests, which we submitted to the Colombian prison administration. We received refusal after refusal, but we didn’t stop until we finally got a yes. The prison agreed that Yosef could receive a kosher-food delivery twice a week. We arranged the meals to be delivered from a kosher restaurant in Colombia, and thank G‑d, Yosef has been getting steady meals for six months now. In a place like that, it is a double miracle: 1) That he has food at all; and 2) that the food is kosher.

Benjamin* is an Israeli who is incarcerated in Mexico. Estranged from his family and oceans away from home, he became depressed and heartbroken. He felt like not a single soul on the planet cared for him. I worked with the Israeli consulate in Mexico to get approval from the prison for Benjamin to receive letters and packages from Aleph. Since then, these packages have become his lifeline. He receives letters of encouragement and support, as well as packages (that I personally pack up and deliver) before every holiday, like a menorah for Chanukah or Seder plate for Pesach.

MK: What kind of obstacles do you face in your advocacy work? Have you ever experienced antisemitism?

SH: I rarely face antisemitism, but the greatest obstacle here is ignorance. Jews make up a tiny percentage of the Latin American population, so people here are not familiar with Jewish culture or religion. Perhaps they’ve vaguely heard that Jews exist, but most have never met one.

The first component of my work is creating awareness. For example, if I am trying to get a prisoner access to kosher food, I first need to explain that Judaism is a religion and that Jews have commandments from G‑d that they are obligated to follow. Then I introduce the concept of a kosher diet as one of those commandments. “Kosher is not food for the body; it’s food for the soul,” I often say. Once the relevant parties are educated and aware, they are much more likely to accommodate a Jewish prisoner’s needs.

MK: Has working in this field changed your perspective in any way?

SH: Absolutely! It’s far more satisfying to win something for an Aleph client than for the criminal firm where I used to work.

In my professional life, I used to feel nervous to assert myself. I would ask myself: How can I, a mere mortal, have the chutzpah to ask something from this important judge or this powerful director of prison? Now, when I am working on behalf of a higher mission, I have no fear of chutzpah. I am emboldened to speak up and speak out, and make those calls and knock on every door.

Before, it was about me and my successes. Now, it’s about helping another Jew—and that is infinitely more empowering.

Shoshona Husny with her daughter.
Shoshona Husny with her daughter.

*Names changed to protect client confidentiality