Esther Pollard: Her Agenda is Kiddush HaShem

September 6, 1996 - Prof. Livia Bitton Jackson - The Jewish Press

Part One

Esther Pollard opened our conversation with a statement that stunned me. "This is not about Jonathan Pollard's release from prison," she said. "This is about Kiddush HaShem. The struggle for Yonatan Ben Malkas's release is a wake-up call for the people of Israel to unite. And they have united in support of Yonatan, spreading Kiddush HaShem, the sanctification of G-d's name throughout the nation."

I came to meet Esther Pollard in the lobby of the Sheraton Plaza Hotel just two and a half days after she ended a 19 day hunger strike in the relentless Jerusalem summer heat. I intended to discuss her extraordinary experience and to empathize with her profound suffering. I was eager to get to know the woman who had married Jonathan Pollard and committed her life to saving him from prison, and who had made such remarkable sacrifices for the sake of this cause.

I was unprepared for the Esther Pollard I met. Instead of a person weakened by hunger and overwhelmed by the enormity of her tribulations, I faced a young woman consumed by an inner fire of faith and determination, who was disinclined to talk about herself. Esther Pollard dismissed any reference to herself and to her act, focusing solely on the drive to save Jonathan Pollard whose health, she explained, is rapidly declining, in the American prison where he is languishing for having transmitted information to Israel vital to its security needs.

"G-d asks us to move towards truth," she said, and her dark eyes sparkled with the glow of her convictions. "Jonathan is imprisoned because of gross lies. While he is kept in prison, truth is in prison," Esther continued. "Rabbi Mordecai Eliyahu, my husband's rabbi, said to me: Until now you were the only shofar to sound a wake-up call to the people of Israel. But now they are united, and they too sound the shofar, to bring redemption not only to Yonatan, but to Am Yisrael."

While Esther Pollard carried on her hunger strike in front of HaMashbir department store in the heart of Jerusalem, men and women, young and old, flocked to be with her, embrace her, give her encouragement. Esther asked them to pray, and to light Sabbath candles. In an incredible show of solidarity, some young people, boys and girls, made their way from Maalot in the North and from Eilat in the South, to the small square to lend Esther Pollard spiritual strength to carry on. Over 80,000 people, a cross-section of the nation transcending ethnic, gender and religious lines, signed Esther's petition calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to strive for justice and Jewish national pride, and effect the immediate release of Jonathan Pollard.

"It was the will of the people that brought about my meeting with the Prime Minister, and ultimately his explicit promise for Jonathan's release," Esther said. "Rabbi Eliyahu was present at the meeting in the prime minister's office, and at the conclusion pronounced a blessing on Mr. Netanyahu, adding the prophetic announcement: I guarantee the prime minister's words. With the help of the Almighty, and in the merit of the people of Israel, Yonatan will be home before Rosh HaShana."

Part Two

"My suffering is a reflection of his suffering," Esther Pollard answers when I refer to her agonizing efforts to free her husband Jonathan Pollard from prison. I am reminded of the powerful symbolism of Elul an acronym of the verse "Ani l'dodi V'dodi Li" I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me. Indeed Esther's strength seems to radiate from her total oneness with Jonathan.

How did this singular union come about? It started with a letter Esther wrote to Jonathan Pollard six years ago in response to a newspaper article. A bundle of 25 letters were brought to the cell of the lonely prisoner on that day. With an unerring sense of destiny, Jonathan selected Esther Zeitz's letter for a response with his stamp allotment for the day. A correspondence ensued between the attractive Canadian-born teacher of English at the Hebrew University and the American-born spy serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison. Their deepening friendship led to Esther's role as Jonathan's spokesperson and ultimately to their unique marriage.

Although growing up in an Orthodox Jewish milieu in Montreal, Esther Zeitz's faith and Jewish commitment became more profound through her marriage to Jonathan Pollard, whom she calls "a hero of the Jewish people." She says, "G-d chose a very special man to give the Jewish people an opportunity to do Kiddush HaShem." As to her personal life, her marriage to Jonathan Pollard ended Esther's lifelong loneliness, and her search for a purpose. She explains: "Since I married Jonathan, even when we are separated by an ocean, I'm never lonely." Jonathan phones Esther every day, by no means a minor accomplishment: he stands in line for hours among hundreds of prisoners in the Butner, North Carolina penitentiary for his turn at the pay phone on his floor.

Sipping diet Coke in the elegant lobby of Jerusalem's Plaza hotel, I find it difficult to harmonize the various aspects of the issue - the Jewish prisoner, victim of the US State Department's anti-Semitic pro-Arab sentiments, incarcerated in a high-security American prison, reaching for the lifeline to Jerusalem and the woman he loves, for the promise of freedom.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now the head of the Jewish State for whose welfare Pollard bartered his future. Will he indeed discharge his government's responsibility towards its agent in a manner that four previous Israeli leaders had failed to do, and secure his freedom with "a new creative approach" as he promised?

And President Clinton in Washington - will he grant "equal justice" to the agent of a friendly nation and reverse his earlier stand? Will he rise above his advisors with vested interests in Pollard's punishment, admit his error in his reasons for refusal, and realize that Pollard's alleged "enormous crime" had not "done damage to the US." and that Jonathan "did express remorse" for what he had done?

Will the prophetic words of former Chief Rabbi Mordecai Eliyahu heralding not only the freedom of Jonathan Pollard but the focus of the people of Israel on Kiddush HaShem be realized? Will his words that Jonathan will be imminently released be fulfilled in the month of Elul, the month of mutual devotion, crowning Esther Pollard's efforts with the ultimate blessing?