Praying and Hoping for His Release
An Interview with Esther Pollard
Devorah Weiss - Mayanei HaYishua - January 1, 2011 (25 Tevet 5771)
Translated to English by J4JP. May be reprinted with full attribution.
"We are out of time," Esther Pollard tells me.
This has been a week in which she has been in the news headlines non-stop, meeting with public officials, Chief Rabbis, the Prime Minister, and other assorted VIPs. All of these represent for her, a life line, renewed hope, a chance to achieve her mission- the release of her husband, Jonathan, from an American prison. She is willing to do anything to realize this goal.
"This is the eleventh hour. Jonathan is desperately ill after living for so many years in harsh conditions in prison. I don't want to think of what may happen if he is not released very soon," Esther says.
Esther has been married to Jonathan for more than 18 years, during the course of which she made aliyah to Israel. With no assistance from the government, she lives here in financial distress. "In my wildest dreams I never dreamed it would take so many years to get the Government of Israel to take responsibility for Jonathan."
"In spite of a slew of articles that have been published in the media over the years, claiming that the State of Israel supports us and provides for us financially, I must tell you, that is an outright lie. In all of the years that Jonathan has been in prison - and let us not forget that he acted on behalf of the State of Israel - we have never received a single cent of support from the State. We own nothing - not a house or a car; nor do we have any financial help from the government.
"A number of years ago a kindly Jerusalem widow heard of our financial distress and offered me a room in her modest apartment in the center of town. Over the years, she adopted us and we adopted her. We live very much as mother and daughter now, in every sense. She is no longer young and she is very happy to have me with her. She is a wonderful person and I don't know what I would have done without her."
Every day, without exception, Esther goes to the Kotel HaMaravi and cries her eyes out for her husband, held captive in a far away land. She prays daily opposite the Holy of Holies, and has a list of people in need of prayers - she doesn't leave anyone out. That is the way she is, a woman who is in tune with the suffering of Am Yisrael.
If you ask her from where she derives her strength and how she manages to live this way, she responds without a second thought, "I do not have a private life of my own. This is my life. Jonathan is my reason for living. He is the reason I wake up in the morning. He is the reason I live and breathe. And as long as he is in distress and suffering, I share his lot. I do not go out at all. I don't accept invitations for Shabbat or holidays. I don't attend simchas. I don't take part in events. I don't go out to have fun with friends and I don't do anything for entertainment. As long as Jonathan is not home, all of my time and attention is focused on getting him home."
You are making such a sacrifice!
"I don't see what I am doing as a sacrifice at all. Jonathan and I are one. He is a part of me and I am a part of him. Ishtoh k'gufo (one's wife is as one's own body). Jonathan always says that because of me, 50% of him is already free; and because of him 50% of me is in prison..."
The death of their beloved Rabbi, HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu zt"l, had a profound effect on the couple. They cannot escape the sense that the Rav is playing an important role in the way that things seem to be turning around ever since he departed.
"HaRav Eliyahu is our Rav. It is very hard for us to assimilate the fact that he is no longer in this world and that whenever we say his name we must now say 'alav hashalom'. Perhaps physically he is no longer with us, but in spirit he is with us all the time! He is the one who taught us the expression "ishtoh k'gufo" (one's wife is as one's own body) and that is how he always related to us. He related to us as one. Even those times that the Rav did not have direct contact with Jonathan, the two still communicated through me. I have no doubt that the fact that the Rav is now Shomayim is certainly connected to this time of grace for Jonathan's release. The Rav is Jonathan's "melitz yoshar" (honest advocate in Heaven). In his lifetime he did everything he could to work for Jonathan's release. Now that he is in Shomayim with my mother and Jonathan's mother, I am sure that they are doing everything they can for us.
"The Rav said that Jonathan is the Yosef HaTzadik of our generation. It is bad enough that they show no rachmanut (mercy) to Jonathan, but even worse that they have no rachmanut (pity) upon the Shechinah who is there with him and shares his lot in prison, the Rav would say with great sorrow. He suffers, said the Rav, because the Shechinah is in distress. In exile. In captivity.
"I remember once when we were sitting in the prison visit room with the Rav and he brought up the verse from Tehillim: "And though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear not evil because You are with me." The Rav told Jonathan that this verse has another meaning - one that sheds light on how the Shechinah is suffering along with him in prison.
"The Rav said that while this verse from Psalm 23 is commonly read as, "And though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear not evil because You are with me", there is another way to read it. All you have to do is add a pause after the word "not" (without adding any other words in Hebrew) and the meaning changes to: "And though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear not. [It is] evil because You are with me."
"HaRav Eliyahu was the greatest Mekubal in the world and the most humble. He never revealed the full extent of his greatness. People are only beginning to discover it now, after his death. The Rav said that Jonathan is the Yosef HaTzadik of our generation. He also said that Jonathan is the key to the geula for all of Am Yisrael. He said that everyone has to be aware that there is a Yosef HaTzadik of our generation. Everyone has to be able to personally feel the pain and the suffering of Jonathan. In the process of working to redeem Jonathan, we end up redeeming ourselves."
It hurts Esther that people forgot Jonathan for so many years and hardly prayed for his return at all. Not in synagogues and not in public. Recently she met with the Chief Rabbis and asked them to use their influence to teach the importance of and to call for prayer for Jonathan. "Every morning at the Kotel, I encounter thousands of tourists and Israelis, from every shade of the political rainbow. I hear many of them pray for one captive but, for the most part, I do not hear them pray for Jonathan. It is painful to me."
"How can people just go about their business and live their lives as if nothing is going on? Where is the arevut hadadeet (the mutual responsibility)? Jonathan's own name - comprised of the two words in Hebrew meaning "G-d gave" -- hints to us that HaShem gave us this opportunity to be His partner in the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim (the redemption of a captive.) through our actions and our prayers - but people are missing the opportunity!"
Are you angry at anyone?
"It is certain that what has gone on for the last 26 years has been done willfully and with intent by the government of Israel. They threw him into the pit like a dog, and always pretended as if they were doing something to bring him home, when in fact they were doing nothing.
"Now there is a window of opportunity. The Prime Minster has announced that he will make a public and official call for Jonathan's release. This is something we have waited for, for 26 years. We strengthen Mr. Netanyahu's hand and call upon everyone to support his initiative. We ask every one who can do something to help, to please do so, and especially that everyone should increase their prayers for Jonathan.
"To my dismay, not every synagogue says a "misheberach" for Jonathan. If there were enough prayers for Jonathan, he would already be home. If only we will do our part, and the government will finally do what it is supposed to do, then I am convinced we will succeed in bringing Jonathan home. The responsibility belongs to each and everyone one of us as part of Am Yisrael. If only people were to start realizing and feeling that Jonathan is their brother, that he is a part of them, then I am sure there would be an open miracle and he would be home - and this would be an enormous Kiddush HaShem (sanctification of G-d's name) for all the world to see.
Where do you draw your strength from?
"As long as Jonathan finds the strength to survive, I have the strength to survive. It is mutual. Our faith in G-d keeps us going. When I fall, Jonathan picks me up. Whenever one of us is down, the other one supports and lifts the other up."