Visiting Jonathan Pollard in an American Prison:
An Interview with HaRav Shlomo Aviner
Originally published in Hebrew in "Olam Katan" - December 10, 2010
Translated to English and released by J4JP December 27, 2010
HaRav Shlomo Aviner, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Yerushalyim and Chief Rabbi of Bet El recently visited Jonathan Pollard in prison as part of a delegation led by Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel. Rav Aviner was interviewed by Olam HaKatan and the interview published for Parshat Vayigash, December 10, 2010. An English rendition of the interview follows:
How does one arrange a meeting with Jonathan Pollard?
"I do not know the process, since they arranged it for me, but I do know that it takes many months to receive permission such as this. The one who arranged all of this is Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Vice President of 'Young Israel'. He displays self-sacrifice to visit Jonathan at every opportunity, and he also accompanied me on this visit."
Can Ha-Rav describe the entrance and checking process before one reaches Jonathan?
"There is a serious checking process there, and it is forbidden to enter with anything. Not a pencil, not a camera, not even a handkerchief or a piece of paper. Nothing. You enter and a metal door is closed. You then enter a hallway, and a metal door is open and then another door and another door, and the place is filled with cameras. They also stamp your hand with an invisible stamp, and when you leave, they check, with the help of ultraviolet, that it is you, in order that you do not switch with the prisoner. It seems that there are people who are willing to switch places with a prisoner In brief, it is impossible to escape from there, it thus appears."
People say that Pollard is not so healthy. Did Ha-Rav observe this?
"In general, he is quite ill and he recently had another medical crisis, but he goes out of his way to hide his pain and one does not immediately sense this about him. He smiles, speaks in moderation, quietly and with knowledge. He possesses a sharp, analytical mind, creativity, and also a good sense of humor. He tries hard not to let visitors see how sick he is. This required great strength, when we were there since the next night, we learned he was desperately ill and in crisis. But when one comes to see him, he strengthens himself, and does whatever he can so you do not see any of it."
Does he succeed in having any hope?
"He has hope. Firstly, because he is a man of great faith. Additionally, as is known, there was been an awakening both in Israel and outside of Israel. A senior aide to Caspar Weinberger (Secretary of Defense of American during the time of Pollard's arrest), named Korb, was the person who presented the memo, following which Jonathan received a life sentence with a recommendation not to grant him clemency. This same Korb recently said that this memo was not true, i.e. Jonathan was blamed for things he did not do. There is therefore an awakening in the US and in Israel." What did you talk about?
"He spoke and to a large extent I just listened. At the end of the conversation, he said that he knows me, because every week he reads the Parashah Sheet of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim. This sheet is distributed on the internet in Hebrew, English, Russian, French, and Spanish. Someone prints it and mails it to him since he does not have access to the internet. He therefore knows what I think on all subjects.
"In general, Pollard knows everything that is happening in Israel and America. He said that he is concerned about the Nation of Israel. This man is in love with the Nation of Israel with a great yearning. He said: "I want to get out of here not necessarily for myself but for the Nation of Israel. Since the Nation of Israel needs to withstand future tests, which will not be simple, I want to be together with her." These are not merely words. If another person said such things, people would say to him that his words don't amount to much. But since Jonathan has displayed such self-sacrifice for the Nation of Israel and endangered himself for the sake of the Nation of Israel, it is therefore possible to believe him.
"By the way, he also displays self-sacrifice in the service of Hashem. It is not easy to observe Shabbat in an American prison, but he observes Shabbat, eats Kosher, and also acts modestly with self-sacrifice. There are people, when faced with hardships in life, who begin to raise objections against the Master of the Universe, but he is the exact opposite. When he entered prison, he was not as religious as he is now, and here - of all places - he became even more religious. He has to drink large quantities of water on account of a medical problem, and he says: 'This is an opportunity for me to recite a lot of blessings.'
"Obviously, it greatly pains him that the Government of Israel ignores him and does nothing for him. What bothers him is not only how they relate to him, but that the Government of Israel does not act, as one would expect, in a Jewish and ethical manner in this matter. He says: 'If the Government had said that it could not help, this would be something else.' But the sense they transmit is that they do not want to help. It took approximately ten years until the State of Israel officially recognized its agent, and this was only following a ruling of the Supreme Court, which he approached and convinced. Only for this reason is there a document today which testifies that he is an official spy of the State of Israel. But this document has not been brought to the U.S. And as long as there is not official statement of responsibility from the State of Israel, in the U.S., he is presumed to be a common criminal, and not an agent of a friendly country, with which it has a special relationship."
It always seems that there is a detail which we are missing in this story. Why was he abandoned by the Government of Israel?
"I do not understand political matters such as this. Some claim that if he is released from prison, he may open his mouth and say things, but after 26 years in prison what is there to say? So this excuse makes no sense. All of these excuses are nothing more than theories. Regardless, the most surprising thing is why we do not bang on the table and say: Give him to us. Until this day, we have not said to the Americans officially, even once, that we want him.
"There was a request, signed by 109 Knesset members, but this request was not passed on to the Americans. The Americans are not able to know this on their own. It is therefore correct that something here is not understandable. It is also not understandable why the Americans do not want to release him.
"Nevertheless, none of these issues relieve us of our obligation to make this demand."
Did Ha-Rav update him about things being done for him in Israel?
"He knows everything better than I do."
What can we do for him, at least on a personal level?
"Firstly, we can send him letters. And in this area, his words have been published in the newspapers, that the letters he receives are oxygen to him. Therefore, please write him. Everyone can write him, but you must write in English, since everything has to pass the censor. But it does not necessarily have to be in clear English. Just the opposite, he said that when he receives a letter in beautiful English, he understands that someone exerted effort to write in an artificial manner, but when it is in English with mistakes and errors, then he knows that this was an initiative that came from the heart. For a long time now, I personally write him a letter each week. I don't know English so well and I am sure that there are mistakes in my English, but after I heard this from him, I was comforted - it is not so bad that I write with errors." In general, does he feel betrayed?
"He feels betrayed by the Government of Israel but not by the Nation of Israel. He knows that the Nation of Israel loves him and is interested in him. And if we send him letters, he sees that the Nation of Israel remembers him."
And this is despite the fact that only a small percentage of people send him letters and act for his release?
"This is true, but he does not expect to receive letters from everyone. He sees this as a credible representative sample of the Nation of Israel. He knows the direction of the winds among the Nation and if we ask a simple person among the Nation of Israel, he will answer: "Yes, certainly, Pollard is a good person, etc."
Did Jonathan ask Ha-Rav for something in particular?
"Yes. He humbly said: 'I have an extremely big request from you - when you return to Israel can you plant a fruit tree.' I said that I will certainly make sure to plant a fruit tree for you, and I will ask other communities to do so as well. This is therefore an opportunity to publicize that every community should plant a fruit tree. Every city, every Jew, just one tree. It is also worthwhile to inform him through the site: jonathanpollard.org And this will make him happy.
"In any event, I have two other requests: One request - as we said - is to write him letters in English, and a lot of them. And the second request - to make others aware. Since many people do not know about this story, the more we speak about it the more it helps.
The fact is that someone spoke about it here and someone else spoke about it there, and a snowball was created and an awakening occurred in the US. It is therefore important to tell friends and relate it at every opportunity."
Does Ha-Rav know how often Pollard receives a visit such as this?
"I have no idea, but I know that the day after our visit, he was going to have a visit from a group of scientists from America, in order to discuss a scientific matter, which he has been thinking about."