The Pollard Case at the Personal Level

Rachmiel Daykin - Hamodia - December 19, 2003

The case of cases in pidyon shevuyim, that of Jonathan Pollard (as per the ruling of Moetzes Gedolei Yisrael during the Clinton Administration), was dealt a serious blow when U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan rejected Mr. Pollard's appeal this past November. It was a particularly hard day for Rav Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel. Rav Lerner has become, over the years, Pollard's rabbinic connection in America, speaking with him by phone several times a week. When news of the court's rejection came, he awaited the next phone call with dread.

"There are calls you don't want to get but know you're going to get," recalls Rav Lerner. "When I first learned of the verdict, it was like a punch to the stomach had knocked all the wind out of me."

Then the phone rang. It is a special phone, a hotline, so that Pollard not waste the precious phone minutes he is allowed per month going through the receptionist's desk at the National Council of Young Israel. Rav Lerner knew who was on the line.

"Good morning, Rav Lerner, how are you?" asked Mr. Pollard.

The voice was Mr. Pollard's usual, positive one.

"I'm fine, how are you?" Rav Lerner asked.

"Me, I'm fine," replied Mr. Pollard. "I never expected anything from this judge. It was you who thought this would be some breakthrough. G-d put me here and only G-d can get me out. This was to teach all of you that lesson."

"There I was, getting a lesson in emunah," recalls Rav Lerner. "He understands that his case defies the logical bounds of the American justice system."

Indeed, the plight of Mr. Pollard bears those characteristics that should be recognized as l'maala min hateva - unnatural. Espionage cases, even against enemy countries, never result in such serious sentences. Mr. Pollard realizes this, and while he continues to make efforts to win his release, he is firm in his belief that only Hashem is matir asurim, the One Who frees the bound.

What, in addition to praying for the release of Yonassan ben Malka, could the average person do?

A teacher in Atlanta had an idea.

Harriet Cortell, who teaches at the Torah Day School of Atlanta, Georgia, recalls: "A speaker here put a fire into me, and I brought the issue up with my students. I had done this sort of thing before. Some time ago we wrote to local politicians about the fact that we need sidewalks to be able to walk safely on Shabbos. It took two years, but finally, sidewalks were put in."

Cortell recalls that the Pollard case motivated the children even more.

"Children have a purer sense of justice, and they took to the issue right away. We made it a class project, writing letters to Mr. Pollard and to politicians in our area, also finding out the addresses to send the letters to-the boys did it all. I didn't edit their letters. The children were brimming with excitement. They kept asking, 'did you send the letters, did they get them already? What did they say?'

"Some of the children's parents got involved as well, helping to locate addresses."

Breaking the news of the judge's dismissal of the Pollard case was not easy for Mrs. Cortell.

"I myself was very disheartened, and I didn't want the boys to lose faith. We talked about it. I tried to point out that our justice system is not perfect. But I don't want to taint them. I didn't tell the boys about the two weeks of horror that Mr. Pollard went through before appearing before the judge, or that his lawyers were denied access to information.

"I'll try another writing project in February, with an eye towards getting a response," says Mrs. Cortell, concluding, "children are closest to Hashem, so hopefully Hashem will hear their prayers for Mr. Pollard."

Pesach Lerner is not sure whether Mr. Pollard ever received the letters written to him by Mrs. Cortell's class. "Everything he is sent gets scrutinized, and sometimes, when things are too bulky, they don't get through," he explains. Still, he points out that "Jonathan is not burnt-out or bitter. In addition to his firm emunah, he's quite involved in current affairs. He reads trade journals and follows of engineering issues. Once, a politician came with me to visit Jonathan, and Jonathan did his homework, because this politician chaired a sub-committee dealing then with a certain engineering issue. He was amazed by Jonathan's grasp of the subject and said it far surpassed his own."

Particularly in times such as the present, when anti-Semitism is already on the rise, unfortunately, some Jews may prefer to keep silent. Some even justify this silence because Mr. Pollard's own actions stirred up the same anti-Semitism they wish not to arouse. "That's not our cheshbon," says Rav Lerner. "Silence is due to laziness, apathy, or a reluctance to waste political 'points.' Non-Jews have stood up on Jonathan's behalf, and we certainly must. Particularly since this case have already been ruled on by the Gedolei Yisrael.

"Imagine if every Monday and Thursday the White House would receive over a thousand calls and faxes asking why Jonathan Pollard has not been released, that his due process was violated, that his plea bargain was violated, that enough is enough. The White House would know that this is a live issue. Imagine the effect this would have on Klal Yisrael itself, the focusing of so much spiritual strength to rescue one captive. Imagine the effect it would have in the beis din shel ma'alah. Even if it would not affect Mr. Pollard, such a show of spiritual force would certainly make an impression somewhere."

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