Light of Day

Richard Thaler - The Jerusalem Post - January 10, 1995

The visiting room at Butner federal prison, where Jonathan Pollard receives occasional guests, is deceptively cheerful. Bright sunshine filters through skylights in the ceiling. There is an outdoor patio. Vending machines dispense sandwiches, snacks and beverages. Children's books are piled high for young visitors. A TV set in the corner blares news reports.

There are no bars visible from the visiting room. Guards are not armed. Inmates are not locked in handcuffs. In fact, there is a striking absence of locks in the guest area. The restroom bears a formica "occupied" sign in lieu of a lock.

During my recent meeting last week with Jonathan Pollard in Butner, North Carolina, the prison visit room reverberated with laughter from inmates and visitors.

Had it not been for the sudden roll call, where inmates were obliged to stand in single file and identify themselves to a prison guard, I could easily have mistaken the scene for visiting day at a summer camp.

Butner is a far cry from Marion Federal Penitentiary, where Jonathan spent seven years of isolation buried three floors below ground level in the notorious K Unit. I have visited Jonathan in both prisons, and can attest to the stark difference.

Nevertheless, Butner is a federal lockup and conditions are severe enough. Jonathan Pollard, who recently celebrated his 41st birthday, is about to complete the 10th year of a life sentence with no hope for parole.

I RETURNED from my fourth prison visit with Jonathan inspired by his remarkable spiritual strength and unflagging love for Israel.

Having journeyed to the prison to offer hope and encouragement prior to Rosh Hashana, I found my own spirits lifted by his selfless devotion to the Jewish people.

I perceived a significant transformation in Jonathan's demeanor since our last meeting 15 months ago. Cautious optimism had replaced previously held feelings of despair. Jonathan was relaxed, and joked about the absurdities of prison life. He spoke lovingly about his wife Esther, and their shared dream of starting a family in Israel.

Jonathan has every reason in the world to be bitter. He has been abandoned by the government of Israel, which has yet to acknowledge responsibility for his activities. He has been abandoned by American Jewish leaders who, fearful of dual loyalty accusations, have failed to clamor for equal justice under the law. He has been abandoned by close associates who question his judgment and overall mental stability, contrary to Justice Department findings.

Despite all that he has endured, Jonathan is not bitter. Moreover, he is not broken. A student of history, he is optimistic that the democratic ideals on which America is founded will ultimately help win his freedom.

Jonathan was once advised by prison guards that he would never leave Marion Prison alive. He did. Former US attorney Joseph diGenova triumphantly declared after Jonathan's sentencing, "It is likely he will never see the light of day again," Jonathan is determined to reverse that dire prediction as well.

Together with Esther, Jonathan looks forward to the day when he will be free to contribute to Israel's economic growth and well-being.

Jonathan Pollard has expressed deep remorse for betraying the trust of the US. His 10 years of imprisonment are more than sufficient to establish the US government's commitment to deter espionage.

Jonathan has paid his debt to society. During this season of repentance and spiritual stock-taking, reasonable people must raise the question: "Why is Jonathan Pollard still in prison?"

The writer is the Rabbi of Sutton Place Synagogue in New York City.