The first time Rabbi Ronnie Greenwald visited Lori Berenson in her bare and frigid prison cell on a Peruvian mountaintop, he brought her a dozen New York bagels.
In his latest visit to the 29-year-old New York woman, serving a life sentence for treason for terrorist acts, Rabbi Greenwald brought her a book on Jewish thought.
He believes that shows progress, both in Berenson’s attitude, and her circumstances.
The details of Rabbi Greenwald’s trip emerge as Berenson’s case has gained support and publicity.
Last week, an American delegation who visited Berenson at Socabaya Prison held a press conference at the UN to focus attention on her 22-year ordeal.
The Rev. Lucuis Walker a New York Baptist pastor and member of Pastors for Peace, said Berenson, a New York native, was in poor health, suffering gastric problems and purplish fingers, due to circulation problems.
“She categorically stated her innocence; she wanted out of prison,” Rev. Walker said.
The group visited her several weeks ago with Berenson’s parents, Mark and Rhoda, college professors in New York who are tirelessly working for her release. They have gained the support of President Bill Clinton and a majority of U.S. senators and congressmen in requesting a new civil trial.
Berenson was sentenced to life on charges of treason in January 1996 by a hooded military judge. A closed-door military tribunal convicted her of being a leader of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.
In recent days the UN Human Rights Commission classified Lori Berenson’s jailing as “arbitrary detention.”
And the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States has agreed to hear her case against Peru. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have also joined the effort.
During his two-hour private meeting with Berenson last month, Rabbi Greenwald, who was not part of the recent U.S. delegation, said he gave her the book, “World Mask,” by Orthodox Rabbi Akiva Tatz.
“I wanted her to see the depth of Judaism.”
But there was a deeper meaning.
“In my own mind I said she was convicted by judge who wore a mask. My wife wrote an inscription to her that ‘you will now see Judaism from greater perspective than bagels.’ ”
Unlike the other visitors, Rabbi Greenwald says he believes Berenson is in generally good health, and believes the Peruvian government wants to resolve the case and grant a civil trial, despite the fact they kept her in solitary confinement for 115 days.
“At least in appearances they’re trying to show they’re civilized.”
Rabbi Greenwald, a businessman and prisoner advocate with ties to Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-Rockland), said the pressure on Peru is working and believes that “with the right kind of diplomatic negotiations, they could give her sentence that’s reasonable.”
With a defined sentence, Berenson might drop objections to serving the time in the U.S., he said.
“I think we can get civil trial approval in six months.”
“My job was to go back to the Peruvians and tell them she does not want to be with comrade terrorists,” he said.
The Berensons have had a less optimistic outlook.
At the press conference Mark Berenson shouted: “I am offended by my country! I am offended by my government! Where is President Clinton feeling my pain?”
Rhoda Berenson, a statistics professor at Baruch College, said the couple had given up on the prospect of a fair trial in Peru.
“I think it’s become perfectly clear that there is an unwillingness to give an open trial,” she said at the news conference. “After this time and all of this suffering, we think enough is enough; she should come home.”