Yehudah Pryce during his morning prayers.
Yehudah Pryce during his morning prayers.

Surrounded by a handful of Jewish inmates in prison, Pryce was introduced to Judaism and began to read books about the religion.

Yehudah Pryce grew up in a tough world. Born Omar Pryce, he became involved with Los Angeles gangs at a young age. As the son of a mother from Sri Lanka who divorced his father from Jamaica and remarried a white man, Pryce struggled with his identity.

“He wasn’t accepted by the white community,” says Rabbi Elya Silfen of Bais Chabad Torah Center of West Bloomfield. “He wasn’t accepted by the Black community.”

Instead, Pryce turned to groups that would accept him: the Crips and Bloods gangs.

Omar Pryce before he transformed his life.
Omar Pryce before he transformed his life.

Yet his acceptance came at a price. Working as a mercenary for the gangs, Pryce peddled drugs, ammo and more. He was thrown in juvenile detention centers multiple times, eventually landing in California’s notorious Pelican Bay State Prison as an adult.

While serving time in prison, Pryce discovered Judaism — and he’ll be sharing his story of redemption over the course of two days at Bais Chabad on Aug. 19 and 20.

Finding Judaism

Surrounded by a handful of Jewish inmates in prison, Pryce was introduced to Judaism and began to read books about the religion.

Yehudah Pryce during his morning prayers.
Yehudah Pryce during his morning prayers.

The concept spoke to him and ignited a desire to change his troubled life. “He decided that he wanted to convert to Orthodox Judaism, but he had to finish out his sentence first,” Silfen explains.

Pryce got in touch with the Rabbinical Council of America, one of the world’s largest organizations of Orthodox rabbis, who advised him to contact a synagogue in Los Angeles when he got out of prison. Pryce was serving more than 16 years for a nonviolent robbery and was finally released in October 2018.

A year after being released, he followed the council’s advice and officially converted. He left his birth name in the past and formally changed his name to Yehudah Pryce. The previous gang member went back to school, graduated with honors and completed a master’s degree in social work. Now, he’s studying for his doctorate as well.

Pryce is currently working as a social worker for the Young Adult Court in Orange Country and as a psychotherapist at the residential addiction treatment center Beit T’Shuvah. He lives with his wife and children in Los Angeles as a practicing and observant Chasidic Jew.

“The story, aside from being fascinating, is a snapshot into a different life,” says Rabbi Shneur Silberberg of Bais Chabad, who is organizing Pryce’s speaking events as part of the Center’s Young Jewish Professionals program on Friday and Saturday services.

Yehudah Pryce converted to Orthodox Judaism after prison.
Yehudah Pryce converted to Orthodox Judaism after prison.

“It teaches us the value of t’shuvah, the idea of repentance and turning things around.”

Silberberg says Pryce’s story is a deeply personal one that will resonate with young adults and the general public, who are welcome to the Saturday Shabbat services.

Inspiration For All

Through Instagram, Bais Chabad was able to connect with Pryce, who had numerous conversations with Silfen about his upbringing, path to redemption and work improving the lives of young adults in the Los Angeles area.

“His main focus is getting those who are homeless into a home,” Silfen says.

As Silfen interviewed Pryce, he was shocked by the tale he heard. “His story was amazing,” he explains.

Over the next several months, Bais Chabad worked hard to bring Pryce to Metro Detroit. They explained their vision to him and how he could play a role in their community events, which have numerous speaking engagements.

“We have speakers here all the time sharing stories, but this one is really different from anything else we’ve come across,” Silberberg says. “It’s one of a kind.”

As the Jewish community gets closer to the High Holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, Silberberg explains that stories like Pryce’s give a new meaning to asking for forgiveness and receiving a fresh start, especially during the month of Elul.

“It’s a month of introspection,” he says. “You’re supposed to look inward and think about where you’re coming from, where you’re going to and how to overcome past mistakes.”

Being a Black Orthodox Jew, Silberberg says, also makes Pryce’s story that much more compelling.

“He’s embracing something as a minority of minorities,” he explains. “That didn’t stop him. Hopefully, everyone can walk away with a message that inspires them in an area of their life.” 

Find more information at Bais Chabad’s Facebook page, facebook.com/BaisChabadWB.

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