Hamodia Interview with Rabbi Pesach Lerner Following Prison Visit

Avraham Weissman - Hamodia - November 30, 2005 / 28 Cheshvan

Jonathan Pollard is entering the

21st year of his life sentence

. Hamodia conducted the following interview with Rabbi Pesach Lerner.


When was the last time you saw Jonathan Pollard? How is he managing to keep up his spirits?

Rabbi Lerner:

I visited him last Thursday, November 24. His mood was positive, but as his friend - someone who has visited with him many times and spoken to him many times, I could feel and sense, as much as he tried to cover it up, [that] he was not well - and yet he still is hopeful. The man has an unbelievable emuna in HaShem, that the Ribbono Shel Olam will ultimately, and hopefully soon, take him out of prison.

Jonathan looks forward to building a family with his wife, Esther, in Eretz Yisrael, and that enables him to look toward a better future. Regardless of his feeling about what the Israeli government has done, or not done, for Pollard, he still loves Eretz Yisrael and the people of Eretz Yisrael.

Jonathan is entering his twenty-first year in prison. Some of that prison time was in the most difficult conditions, including solitary confinement, time in a mental ward, etc. Jonathan has suffered greatly and it his emuna and the support he receives from his wife and a few of his close friends that keeps him going.

He understands that there are those who are watching him and waiting for him to break.

They are waiting to see that the Jewish community is not concerned with one of its own, and if and when Jonathan breaks or gives up, it would solidify that opinion. Jonathan would never give them that opportunity.


How much contact does Jonathan have with the outside world? How many minutes a day can he speak on the phone? How many visitors may he receive a week? Can he receive letters?

Rabbi Lerner:

He can speak for up to 300 minutes a month on the telephone. He pays over a dollar a minute for calls in the U.S. and much more for calls to Israel, where his wife Esther currently is, working on his behalf. During the months of November and December, the prison gives all the prisoners an extra 100 minutes. I remind your readers that we can use more than that - more than 300 minutes on our cell phones - in just a few days.

As far as visitors, every prisoner is entitled to a certain amount of visitor points. A weekday is a certain amount of points, as is a weekend and holiday. Normally Jonathan reserves the points for his wife Esther, and still this is not enough. As his rabbi, I can visit him as clergy, and thus not use up his points.

He can receive letters, although it takes some time until he receives them, because they are often delayed and censored. In regard to his contact with the outside world, he reads a phenomenal amount of material, including newspapers. He has specifically told me that he enjoys the Hamodia he receives each week. He really is very well informed.


Every so often an article appears in the mainstream media insinuating that Jonathan has not expressed "regret" or contrition for his actions. How would you respond?

Rabbi Lerner:

The issue of remorse has been used against Jonathan so many times in the past. He expressed remorse in the past - but whenever and however he does so, it never appears to be enough.

In 1997, in remarks broadcast on Israeli media, Jonathan said, "I am extremely sorry for what happened. I don't believe that anybody who has experienced what I have experienced over the past 13 years could feel anything but profound sorrow and remorse. "My motives may have been well and good, but they only served to explain why I did what I did. They certainly do not serve as an excuse for breaking the law." Jonathan Pollard never intended to harm the United States. All he wanted was to help an ally fight terrorism and save civilian lives.


What practical steps can interested individuals undertake to help Jonathan?

Rabbi Lerner:

When I discuss with Jonathan what the concerned person on the street can do, he says daven - "Daven for me; Hashem will answer your tefillos when He sees fit." Daven that Yehonasan ben Malka should have a yeshua and a refua, speedily in our day.

Concerned Jews and non-Jews can continue to call their elected officials to urge them to ask President Bush to grant Jonathan clemency. Twenty years in prison is enough. This injustice must end.

Jonathan has expressed to me his disappointment over the fact that after there was a kol korei signed in October 1993 by close to 30 roshei yeshiva, rebbes, and poskim that classified his situation as a clear-cut situation of pidyon shevuyim, where are the masses of Torah Jews acting on his behalf? I personally asked Hagaon Harav Sholom Yosef Elyashiv, shlita, about Pollard, and Harav Elyashiv responded to me, in front of his close talmid Rav Yosef Efrati and in front of one of his grandchildren, that Pollard's situation is one of pidyon shevuyim and [that] everything that can be done to have him freed should be done.

Where are the rallies, massive phone campaigns [and] tefilla gatherings that the mitzva of pidyon shevuyim demands of us? Jonathan asks me why he is not the subject of discussion at conferences or in the classrooms. It is interesting to note that just last week, every Israeli school - the government-sponsored ones - spent one hour of class time discussing the Pollard cause.

Jonathan feels that, but for his wife and a few good friends and activists, he would be totally forgotten. When he asks me why I am the only person who came to visit, I have no response.

He took great chizuk from the recent rally in Yerushalayim, which was reported in Hamodia. About 15,000 people attended that rally. Most of the participants were religious, and many of them were not even born 20 years ago, when Jonathan started his prison sentence.


What do you talk about during your visits?

Rabbi Lerner:

We discuss how he feels, what occupies his time, the various endeavors taking place in Israel and in the U.S. on his behalf.

We share divrei Torah. This past visit, he spoke about some of the comparisons he sees between Noach and Moshe Rabbeinu. I shared with him insights from Harav Zalman Sorotzkin, zt"l, about Noach, Yaakov and Yosef. It is amazing to see how he understands the divrei Torah, asks challenging questions, and applies what we discuss to his own situation.

Jonathan shares with me things he is reading and studying. We discuss midrashim, gemaros, commentaries on Chumash, and he is an active participant in the conversation. He looks forward to one day soon being able to sit in the beis hamedrash, with the texts we discuss orally, and learn from them.

People often ask me, after twenty years in prison, how he has managed to survive intact. I tell them all [that] he is very much intact. He has breadth and depth, he is sensitive and caring, bright and always learning - not bitter. He is someone any of us would be honored and grateful to have as a dear friend, a neighbor, a relative.

Jonathan walks around the prison wearing a yarmulka [and] a pair of tzitzis. He davens every morning with tallis and tefillin.

I go to give him chizuk, and I leave having received chizuk.


Why hasn't Jonathan applied for parole?

Rabbi Lerner:

Very simple, first of all, he feels that his file is already marked against him. Secondly, as you probably know, his attorneys have been filing in court to have access to various confidential documents. Without knowing the content of those documents, it is impossible to file for parole and respond to questions and issues which are sure to be brought up by the anti-Pollard forces, but the Pollard team can not answer what they do not know.

Without knowing all the information and all the charges against him, it is impractical to file for parole. Based on the current situation he expects - and his attorneys and advisors agree - that the answer will be negative.

Other Americans who spied for allies have received an average sentence of two to four years. Even Americans who spied for the enemy have served shorter terms than Mr. Pollard's. Perhaps if the American Jewish community would demand an end to this injustice, then maybe parole is an option.


Jonathan currently has a lawsuit pending in front of the Supreme Court of Israel. What does he hope to accomplish?

Rabbi Lerner:

Currently three separate petitions are in front of the Supreme Court in Israel. One is that he should be classified "a prisoner of Zion" and receive all the benefits to which, by law, such a classification would entitle him, in a bid to put more pressure on the Israeli government to secure his release.

The second petition asks the Israeli court to investigate the United States' violation of a secret agreement between then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres and then-American Secretary of State George Shultz. Pursuant to the 1985 agreement, in order for the U.S. intelligence organizations to be able to institute what they considered damage control of the information Pollard gave to Israel, Israel undertook to return to American investigators all of the classified documents transferred by Pollard to the Israeli government; and in exchange, the Justice Department committed itself not to utilize these materials in its prosecution of the Israeli agent.

However, in violation of the agreement, American officials immediately used the returned documents against Pollard.

The government of Israel never raised a protest over the United States' blatant breach of the terms of the secret agreement, and never, in 15 years, informed Pollard or his lawyers that the Justice Department was prohibited from utilizing the documents in its prosecution.

Pollard was not held incommunicado at the time and Israel had full access to him via his attorneys. There was no excuse then, or for the next 15 years, for Israel's failure to inform Pollard or his attorneys that the U.S. was not permitted to use the returned documents against him.

To this day Israel has never protested that the U.S. obtained Pollard's life sentence on the basis of inadmissible evidence.

The High Court petition demands that Israel finally confront the United States over its violation of the secret agreement and act to secure Pollard's immediate release. The existence and terms of the secret agreement were only brought to Pollard's attention in 2000, after the late Israeli Minister Rechavam Ze'evi, Hy"d, discovered documentation referring to it in a Knesset Commission report buried in a government archive, and provided the imprisoned agent with a copy of what is known today as the Eban report, [so called because] Abba Eban chaired the secret Knesset committee that researched and wrote the report.

The third petition asks the Supreme Court to compel the government of Israel to arrest Angie Kielcynski - a self-confessed Israeli traitor who spied for the United States and exposed Pollard - to interrogate him, and then initiate a spy swap to return Kielcynski to the U.S. and Pollard to Israel.

Angie Kielcynski (a.k.a. Yosef Barak), an Israeli Likud party activist, was appointed by Arik Sharon to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in 1985. He took advantage of his appointment to this Knesset committee and his access to classified information to spy for the U.S.

Kielcynski was exposed in 2001 when the New York Law Journal reported on his lawsuit against the CIA to collect pension and benefits for his services from 1985 to 1991. His lawsuit stated that he had provided the CIA with valuable information, including the information about Jonathan Pollard which led to his arrest and incarceration. The U.S. court did not question the validity of Kielcynski's claims but declined to hear the suit for fear that classified information might be compromised in the process.

Despite his open admission in the media that he spied for the U.S., Kielcynski was neither detained nor interrogated by Israeli security services when he returned to live in Israel in 2001.

Jonathan Pollard has summed up his 20-year experience of dealing with the Israeli government to me as follows: "Let me paraphrase an old quote from Abba Eban: 'The government of Israel has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to free me.' How else is it possible for successive governments to be 'toiling' for 20 years to secure my release, without making even a single centimeter of progress?"


How hopeful are you that Jonathan will be freed?

Rabbi Lerner:

I believe that b'ezras Hashem, Pollard will be freed; hopefully it will be very soon. The injustices are so blatant that one day those injustices must be corrected.

Meanwhile, the American Jewish community, and especially the American Torah community, who[se members] understand the obligations of pidyon shevuyim, need to do everything we can to secure his release.

Yehonasan ben Malka Pollard should be part of our daily tefillos [and] our Mi Shebeirachs on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Rabbi Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, has been at the forefront of organizing grassroots efforts to secure the release of Jonathan.

In his position, Rabbi Lerner has harnessed the full spectrum of his organizations's resources in this campaign, and has been instrumental in leading the NCYI, its national board, professional staff and members in assuming communal responsibility to do all that they can to fulfill the mitzva of pidyon shevuyim.