Pollard's Plight: Our Pain

Dov Hikind (NY Assemblyman, D - Brooklyn) - The Jewish Press [NY] - August 31, 2007

There was a surreal sense to embarking on a pre-dawn journey to visit Jonathan Pollard in the federal correction facility in Butner, North Carolina. Daylight had not yet broached the horizon, and the gray stillness of the morning at 4:45 a.m. punctuated the gravity of the day's mission. It was a restless night for me: In the last

22 years

of Jonathan's incarceration, I had read countless books and articles, researched his case, and been briefed by Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel. And now, I was going to see Jonathan, who had spent most of his life in confinement.

After many years of advocating on Jonathan's behalf, through myriad channels, I wanted to look into his eyes, be with Jonathan and feel with Jonathan. There are some moments, when I contemplate the last 25 years, that have become for me the fulfillment of my destiny, the reason I was elected to public office. It may be reflected in the eyes of a constituent, a senior citizen who was on the verge of having their Medicaid benefits terminated. And it was echoed on July 31, with the crushing sound of steel electronic prison gates slamming behind us with jarring finality in the federal institution in North Carolina.

Meeting with Jonathan was humbling, and it was a full 24 hours until I could integrate and process the experience. Jonathan's faith is immutable, and his love is unfathomable. He has been disavowed, deserted, and denigrated by his beloved Israel. And yet he yearns for her embrace. Initially, regrettably, the Jewish community distanced itself from Jonathan, but his infinite love for the Jewish people has not been tempered.

We were escorted into the room with an intelligence officer accompanying the four of us: Rabbi Pesach Lerner, who has done more for Jonathan than anyone, apart from his wife, Esther; Dr. Joseph Geliebter; and Wolf Sender. And there was Jonathan Pollard. We rushed to embrace, and as we hugged and kissed, the solemnity of the moment, the purity of his love, was overwhelming. It was a profound rendering of the dignity of the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim. Encased in steel, enclosed by razor-sharp barbed wire, for 2 hours we spoke of what Jews have spoken about throughout the milennia: Israel, Torah, and the Jewish condition.

Jonathan was fully read on my recent trip to Europe to survey the violent surge in anti-Semitism in England, France, Belgium, and Germany. His inspired analysis and grasp of the malignancy of European anti-Semitism was brilliant. Jonathan lead the conversation with an anthology of books he had read and was in the midst of reading with titles I have difficulty pronouncing. There are few minds like his, and fewer with a commitment of heart and spirit that is comparable to his.

Keeping kosher in a federal penitentiary is truly a nisayon. It makes it that much more challenging that Jonathan is a Type 2 diabetic, and his condition is acute. The proper monitoring, diet, treatment prerogatives that would control his diabetes are not available to him. Rabbi Lerner bought Jonathan snacks from the vending machines, all inspected for the proper kosher certification. When Jonathan ate the offered chocolate pudding and peanut butter and crackers, one of our group commented that "this food is terrible for a diabetic." Jonathan wistfully answered, "But I'm hungry." I will never forget those words. Jonathan regularly forsakes a diet that would be better advised for his health, because of Kashrus issues.

Jonathan acknowledges, "I know I broke the law, all I ask for is proportionality." The sentence Jonathan received was disproportionate and disparate to that of individuals convicted of a similar crime. Jonathan lives every moment to walk out of prison, to touch the soil of the state of Israel, feel her breath on his cheek, and be with his dear wife Esther. The 2 1/2 hours vanished and our allotted time with Jonathan was over. It was a life-altering and life-affirming experience for me. I have met few people who match Jonathan's caliber of faith and commitment; it will stay with me forever.

So many have risen to say that Jonathan has suffered enough. So many Gedolim. So many leaders. So many from the intelligence community. And now we must rise as a community and fulfill a mitzvah that is rarer than most: the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim, redeeming the prisoner.

Rav Elyashiv, Shlita and Rav Schteinman, Shlita have written letters to the President imploring George W. Bush to "grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard." James Woolsey, former Director of the CIA has said, "My view is that 20 years is enough I think the close relationship between United States and Israel as fellow democracies is also a consideration, and at this point I think he's served long enough." Former mayor and presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani has said that Jonathan's sentence was unfair and "way beyond the sentences served by other people that have been convicted of the same offense."

It is our generation that has been entrusted by God with Jonathan's redemption. Perhaps for a special zchus, perhaps we need more meritorious undertakings. And as we approach the Yomim Noraim, the High Holy Days, we repeatedly beseech God in our tefillos for His mercy. We need to evoke the merits of the heavens for Jonathan's redemption... and our own. As long as Jonathan is in prison, we are imprisoned by our own failure to redeem him. We cannot rest until he is in his beloved Israel with his beloved wife.

Now, through Yom Kippur, it is imperative that each and every one of us calls the White House to request the release of Jonathan Pollard. Make the call once every day between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at 202-456-1414 or 202-456-1111 and take part in the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim.

In these very trying times, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a K'siva V'chasima Tova. May the New Year bring with it comfort and peace and renewed hope and promise for all the Jewish people.

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