Each weekday as I pray the morning prayers I see his face. He has done so much for us. How have we repaid him? Most of the Jewish world has abandoned him.
On the balcony off our bedroom, tied tightly onto the bars with ropes, ripples a formerly red, white and blue banner with a drawing of bearded and bespectacled Jonathan Pollard. It is interesting that the color red has completely faded and only the blue and white, the colors of Israel remain visible. The banner has been hanging there since this past June. It has been exposed to the relentless sun, to the hot, dusty chamsin winds that originate in the desert, to the whipping cold winds, to the driving rains. The banner is ripped in many places, but it tenaciously holds on and weathers the storms.
To me, the banner symbolizes the past 21 years that Jonathan Pollard has been imprisoned in America– the home of the free and the brave. Jonathan Pollard has been battered by prison personnel and scorned and mocked by fellow inmates. His life is bound up amidst government intrigue and secrets. Like the torn and faded banner hanging on our balcony, Jonathan’s physical state has deteriorated in prison. But his spirit and resolve remain strong.
This November 21st Jonathan will be beginning his 22nd year in prison. My husband Abe and I were married on November 25th, twenty two years ago. During that more than two decades we brought seven Jewish souls into the world. We have brought five of them into Jewish manhood and womanhood. We have experienced the joys of our children’s smiles, their first steps, taking them to synagogue, hearing them give over Torah thoughts at our Shabbat table and tucking them in at night. We have been able to attend hundreds of celebrations. We have been able to travel freely between the U.S. and Israel. We have explored many Israeli locales during family outings and vacations. We have hosted friends and strangers in our home. We have gone food and clothing shopping, we have purchased what we needed at the pharmacy, we have visited doctors when we were sick. We have been able to live full, Jewish lives. We have lived a life of dignity.
In the meanwhile, Jonathan, in whose merit our Arab enemies’ plan to destroy many, many Israelis was thwarted, remains imprisoned by the U.S. government. Instead of being extolled by the free world, our hero Jonathan Pollard has spent over 1,000 Shabbatot in prison! While we sit down to a specially set Shabbat table and enjoy the taste of the world to come– singing Shabbat songs, exchanging Torah thoughts, and tasting the delicious Shabbat food– what is Jonathan doing?
On Shabbat night after my husband has blessed each of our children, he recites a prayer written by the sister of Missing-In-Action soldier Zachary Baumel. It is a prayer that was written for all Jews who are enveloped by sorrow, and specifically for MIA’s. Jonathan certainly falls into the category of someone in captivity. Moreover, each weekday I recite a prayer that Jonathan should be released from prison and that he and his wife should be healthy and be able to live in Israel and raise a family here.
I have seen movies and television shows and I have read books in which there are prison scenes. They are but a short glimpse into what prison life is really like. Jonathan’s imprisonment brings to mind the imprisonment of another Jewish hero, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky. His book FEAR NO EVIL, describing his life in Soviet prisons, is a vivid portrayal of his life as a prisoner.
I have read some of the numerous letters that Jonathan has sent out from prison. He describes his aspiration to live in Israel, how his hopes have been dashed as powerful judges and politicians decide his fate, his love for the Jewish Nation, life in prison, and reactions to world events that touch the Jewish people in some way. Perhaps one day he too will be free to publish a book about his imprisonment in the United States. People should not delude themselves into thinking that he has it easy in prison.
His wife and helpmate Esther is a tireless advocate for her husband’s release. Her actions are reminiscent of those of Avital Sharansky for the release of her husband Natan from Soviet prison.
On December 23, 2003 during Chanukah there was a concert and rally in New York City for Jonathan Pollard. Esther’s presentation included these words, “If the Pollard case were only about Jonathan Pollard, then one might try to understand the cowardice and the duplicity of the Jewish leaders as some kind of political expedience. But the Pollard case is also about Jews. It is about how Jews are treated in America and about whether or not Jews deserve to be treated equally before the law. It is about whether or not Jews can be trusted, whether or not they are first-class citizens in America and whether the American dream applies to Jews or just the nightmare?
“The Pollard case is about Jews, and it is about Israel. It is about whether Israel has the right to be treated fairly and equally as an ally. It is about whether Israel has the right to stand up for fair treatment for one of her own. It is about whether or not Israel can depend on its leaders to look our for its own national interests, or whether American national interests will drive Israeli policy—even to the extent to betraying and abandoning those who serve the Jewish State.”
How can we help in the effort to free Jonathan Pollard? Daven (pray) to the one Above that He should have great mercy upon Jonathan and upon all of our imprisoned and persecuted fellow Jews. Daven that Yehonatan ben (son of ) Malka will have a refuah shelaima, a speedy and full recovery. Daven that he be reunited with his wife Esther Yocheved bat (daughter of) Raizel Bracha, who also needs a refuah shelaima.
Publicize Jonathan’s plight. Arrange a parlor meeting in your home in which either you or someone else speaks about Jonathan’s dire situation. (Years ago I attended a parlor meeting during which someone spoke about Missing-In-Action soldier Zachary Baumel. Hearing about him gave me the impetus to write a story about him, which was featured on the cover of a international Jewish magazine.) Putting a bumper sticker on your car, backpack and coat can make people ask questions and spur them to take action on Jonathan’s behalf. I wear a Jonathan Pollard button on my coat and a blue Jonathan Pollard bracelet on my wrist.
Something which can take just a few minutes, but with volume can create a great impact is the writing of letters to government officials, Israeli and American alike. If snail mail is not to your liking, then send emails. Organize a fax bombardment program in your community. Imagine the impact on the U.S. President and on the Israeli Prime Minister upon hearing that their office receives thousands of faxes daily regarding the demand for Jonathan’s release.
Attend demonstrations and concerts on behalf of Jonathan. I have attended several demonstrations with our youngest children in tow. Our oldest son has attended several demonstrations, including one in Tel-Aviv. Esther Pollard addressed the crowd at a demonstration outside of the Knesset, which had begun at Independence Park in downtown Jerusalem. She told us that she had called Jonathan at the beginning of the march to the Knesset. When Jonathan heard the crowd that had gathered on his behalf he said to Esther, “The shouts of the crowd to free me are like tefilla (prayer) in Heaven.”
In a letter to Jonathan that Esther wrote following a November 23, 2005 demonstration that I attended with our daughter Devorah Elianna, she wrote,
…” I addressed the crowd telling them how overwhelmed with love and care and concern I feel and how inadequate my words are to express what I feel in my heart. I explained that our rabbis teach that all Jews are one soul, therefore the actions, thoughts and prayers of one, affect all. The rabbis teach that when a Jew says tehillim in Jerusalem, it will affect another Jew sitting in New York who starts keeping Shabbat which affects another Jew in Paris who starts to keep kosher and so on and so on. I told the crowd, that in the same way, I feel certain that waves and waves of love and concern for Jonathan being expressed here in Jerusalem, must surely be felt now in Butner (North Carolina) by Jonathan —and that they are giving him life and keeping him alive in this way! …”
Are demonstrations really effective? Will they lead to Pollard’s release? As a close friend of our family remarked, “Hashem sees your effort. He sees that you care. Maybe that’s what is necessary.”
When our then nine-year-old daughter Devorah Elianna saw a picture of Jonathan behind bars, which appeared on one of the fliers we have at home, she asked, “Who’s that?” I explained that it is a picture of a Jew named Jonathan Pollard who helped save many Jewish lives and he was put in prison by the Americans. Immediately she said, “I want to write to him.” She took out colored pencils and paper and drew a heartwarming picture depicting her holding Jonathan’s hand and offering him words of encouragement. Our son Eliyahu Yeshaya, who was seven, said, “I want to write to Yonatan Pollard.” He drew a picture in red crayon of Jonathan in prison and a message to go with it. Who knows the effect on long-suffering Jonathan as a result of receiving such drawings and notes?
At the 2003 Chanukah concert in New York City, Esther’s penetrating words were heard, “Jonathan’s plight has always been a test for the Jewish people. Not a trial, not a punishment or an embarrassment or an affliction—just a test—one that Israel and the Jewish leadership has failed over and over and over again for the last 19 years (now twenty one years). The more time passes, the more obvious it becomes that Jonathan is the symbol through which Israel and the American Jewish community are humiliated and punished. The worse he is treated, the more he is slandered and afflicted, and the longer he is incarcerated, the more Heaven invites the Jewish People to respond, to unite, to participate and to seek their own redemption by redeeming Jonathan.”
Throughout history Jews have striven to retrieve their fellow Jews from various enemies. The mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim, redemption of captives, is the only precept which the Talmud designates as a mitzvah rabba, a great commandment. Rabbi Efraim Sprecher points out that it is interesting that pidyon shvuyim is written in the plural, as if there is no such idea as a single captive. Since all of Am Yisrael is one spiritual whole, all of us are in captivity as long as Jonathan Pollard remains in prison.
As Rabbi Tarfon said in ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS, “You don’t have to finish the work, yet you are not free to evade it.” It is incumbent upon all of us to attempt to rescue our brother Jonathan.
The threadbare banner of Jonathan Pollard hanging from our balcony mars part of the breathtaking view we have of the regal Judean mountains with their terraces and of the communities dotting the area. But that is good. It is a reminder that our daily lives should be marred by the fact that Jonathan Pollard remains incarcerated.
Write to Jonathan Pollard #09185-016, P.O. Box 1000, Butner, NC, USA 27509-1000. Learn more about Jonathan Pollard on the Justice for Pollard website www.jonathanpollard.org. The email address is email@example.com. In Israel, The Committee to Bring Jonathan Home can be reached at 054-214037 or 054-402308. Outside of Israel call 972-54-214037 or 972-54-402308.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.