Pollard Imprisonment Hits 22 Years
Area Rabbis Step Up Efforts To Free Former Intelligence Analyst
The Jewish Star - December 1, 2006
Jonathan Pollard was once a frequent discussion topic at the Shabbat table. But as the 22nd anniversary of his imprisonment passed just over a week ago, area rabbis said that the effort to free him needs to mimic the effort to free Israeli soldiers who are missing in action.
"If we don't care about one Jew, then three MIAs don't matter, and communities don't make a difference either, and 10,000 Jews from Gush Katif don't matter either," said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel. "It's important that every Jew makes a difference."
Pollard is a former civilian American Naval intelligence analyst who was imprisoned for providing to Israel classified information about potential nuclear and biological weapons in the Middle East. His physical health has deteriorated since he entered the prison, Rabbi Lerner said. "He has diabetes and blood pressure problems; intestinal problems and heart problems. ... His legs were swollen from his medication, and he needs a lot of medical treatment."
Rabbi Lerner visits Pollard six to eight times a year at his medium-security prison in Butner, N.C. Often, he brings visitors. On his Oct. 18 visit, he brought along Ambassador Reda Mansour, Israel's Consul General to Atlanta, GA. On his most recent visit, on Nov. 2, Rabbi Lerner was accompanied by Rabbi Aryeh Zev Ginzberg of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center in Cedarhurst.
It was Rabbi Ginzberg's first visit to Pollard, and it tied him to the case. Rabbi Ginzberg saw tremendous faith in Pollard. "Naturally, it doesn't look like there's any hope for him, but he feels very strongly that something's going to happen."
Pollard evokes several character traits in the mind of Rabbi Lerner, who has made his visits to Pollard for more than a decade. "He's not bitter; he's bright; he's intelligent; he's emotional in the positive sense; he has a very good memory; he's inquisitive," Rabbi Lerner said. "I've never taken down [to the prison] anybody who hasn't walked out and been amazed at this individual."
Pollard's intelligence has led him to become his own teacher. He reads a lot, Rabbi Lerner said, and though his college education was in international relations, he recently has taken an interest in the sciences. "I've taken down professionals whom he's been able to have a serious conversation with," he said. "I'm sitting there, listening to them carrying on a conversation, and these experts [in their fields] are asking him 'Where'd you pick this up?' And I hear him tell them that it was in the trade journals and the books he reads."
Pollard manages to think inside a prison compound that is anything but quiet. Though his visits with Pollard are outside the jail cells, Rabbi Lerner said, "Jonathan tells me that in middle of the night, people are screaming and yelling." As for his 8-foot-by-8-foot living quarters in a compound that holds one and a half times more prisoners than it should, "Jonathan says that if you spread out your hands full breadth ... and you turn around, that's the size of the cell - with a bunk bed, a urinal, a chair and a bookshelf."
Rabbi Lerner said the message to send to government officials is that 22 years is more than enough time for Pollard to serve in prison, and that if the Israeli government were to acknowledge that he is one of its agents, his situation would improve significantly. The U.S. Dept. of Justice has never been officially informed that Pollard was working for Israel.
"Then the Israeli government would have a say in his medical treatment, and he'd get more hours on the phone, for example," Rabbi Lerner said. Pollard can use the phone for 300 minutes a month. His wife, Esther Pollard, currently lives in Israel.
Rabbi Ginzberg traveled to Israel where he said he hoped to visit Esther Pollard and her husband's attorney. He said he believed his meetings with them would result in a game plan to help Pollard on the local level.
In the meantime, the Jewish community on Long Island can help Pollard by spreading the word to the next generation. Rabbi Ginzberg said he recently spoke to a class of sixth and seventh graders at Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway about Pollard's situation, but only a handful of the students knew who Pollard was before Rabbi Ginzberg spoke to them. Still, the response was positive.
"We talked about his issues - what he did, what we have to remember about him - and they responded very warmly. Some of them wrote letters that I should [mail] to him," Rabbi Ginzberg said. "We're not discussing whether [what he did is] right or wrong, correct or incorrect - we leave that for the historians. But we're teaching them that we're trying to help our country and our people."