Under the Wings of the Shechina*

Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu's visit with Jonathan Pollard

Prisoner #09185-016 has been serving time and serving G-d in prison for 22 years. When will Jonathan Pollard's jailers realize that enough is enough?

Yossi Elituv - Mishpacha Magazine - August 1, 2007

Two-and-a half hours. That was the time allotted to prisoner number 09185-016 for an emotional meeting with his rabbi from Israel. It's not the first time that Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu has met with Jonathan Pollard. But apparently, this time there was a certain sense of promise that surrounded the visit. After having all legal appeals and political efforts to free him go up in smoke, with the Israeli government turning a cold shoulder to him, the Jewish prisoner serving a life sentence for passing classified information to a friendly country has no choice left but to relinquish negotiations with the Israelis and turn his arms and eyes heavenward.

In a moving dialogue with Rabbi Eliyahu, Pollard describes a wretched life in captivity; the searing pain of abandonment and betrayal. He speaks of his dream to learn Torah in Jerusalem, even as his ailing health is further declining and harsh reality is closing in on him.

Rabbi Eliyahu came to encourage him, to boost his spirit with words of consolation and faith.

Protective Cover

In the past, Rabbi Eliyahu has spread his wings of fatherly protection over the prisoner and his wife, who have been forsaken by all, government and public alike. On this visit, in the medium-to maximum security prison building that houses dangerous criminals and other serious offenders, Rabbi Eliyahu is accompanied by Rabbi Shmuel Zafrani, rosh yeshivah of Yeshivas Meiri in Jerusalem; his son Rabbi Yosef; and Rabbi Chaim Suissa. Escorting the entourage of rabbis, as well, is Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, who has spearheaded efforts among American rabbanim and askanim to free Pollard from captivity.

Oh, and there's one more escort: an FBI agent, who follows the conversation, his eyes darting furtively around. It's most likely that he understands Hebrew, though he doesn't show it.

Rabbi Eliyahu is courteously and respectfully greeted by the prison authorities. His escorts undergo a thorough, but dignified security check and are brought to the visitors' room, a narrow room containing only chairs.

It is noontime. While awaiting Pollard's entry, the entourage speaks of his amazing self-sacrifice to eat kosher, mostly making do with cans of tuna, and crackers that he obtains at an inflated cost in the prison cantina. Later on, when they exit after the meeting, they are in awe of the daily battles that Pollard valiantly deals with, and his familiarity and empathy with Israeli current events.

More than Enough

As Pollard steps into the visitors' room clad in the prison uniform, a delightful smile lights up his weathered face. The jailers insist on the conversation being conducted in English, which is translated by the Israeli Vice-Consul stationed in Atlanta. They also make sure that there's a hefty distance between the inmate and the visitors.

Rabbi Eliyahu initiates the conversation: "When we passed through the Red Sea, the Torah says: 'And G-d saved us on that day' and only afterwards does it say: 'And they trusted in G-d and in His servant Moshe.' We need to implore the Heavens that you merit a salvation, and when the Almighty sends His deliverance, our faith will turn into something clear and concrete. Wherever I go, during conversations with people and lectures to crowds, I always mention your name and ask our Jewish brethren to mention your name in their prayers and to say a special request for your speedy salvation during Shema Koleinu."

Pollard: "I have to trust that I'll be released and then I too will merit seeing the Almighty's salvation in crystal clarity."

Rabbi Eliyahu: "Faith in G-d you already have. Now we need to beg for Heavenly mercy."

Pollard: "I don't know who is worse off, me or Israel. Lately, I have been receiving letters from Sderot residents who find themselves in a terrible state of danger. There are no bounds to the suffering they endure there in recent times. The disengagement, the expulsion, and now the Kassams in Sderot. I am currently learning Shoftim. I understand from the words written there that things could get much worse, until the Ultimate Redemption."

Rabbi Eliyahu: "It is a time of trouble for Jacob, and we will be saved. How are you so up-to-date with what's going on in Israel?"

Pollard: (laughs) "The reason I'm here in jail is because my captors say I know too much, but truthfully, I don't know much at all."

Rabbi Eliyahu: "We need to storm the Heavens that you be freed. Twenty years plus is more than enough. Enough already. You need to be free. Yosef HaTzadik was in the Egyptian prison cell together with the meanest of men, and when the moment of salvation came, it says, 'They rushed him out of the pit.'I sincerely pray that for you too the 'rushed' will be fulfilled and your release will come instantaneously, and that, like Yosef's continuation that 'G-d was with Yosef and he was a man of success,' may the same be with you."

Pollard: "Honored Rav, to attain true faith and trust you need self-sacrifice, and there are many ways of self-sacrificing. It's obvious that I have sacrificed much in my life. The Rav knows how great the anguish is of being far apart from my wife. Is there a greater sacrifice than this? I hope that the One Above will act measure for measure with me and perform a miracle so that I can be swiftly reunited with my wife in Israel."

Rabbi Eliyahu: "We find a proof to your own words in the verse: 'G-d is your shadow to your right hand.' Heavenly behavior shadows ours; the way we act towards G-d, He acts toward us."

Jonathan Pollard wipes away a tear and Rabbi Eliyahu continues: "Rabbi Jonathan, we have a place reserved for you in our beis medrash. We're waiting for you."

Mutual Prayers

In the ensuing few minutes, Pollard speaks painfully of the Israeli government's indifferent attitude and of the many opportunities that arose to secure his freedom that were torpedoed or missed entirely because of inadequate efforts. Most of his words can obviously not be publicized.

Pollard ends his agonizing monologue with the following words: "I have much faith in our rabbis but not in the politicians. Understandably, I have no trust in the newspapers. My desire is to be an ordinary citizen."

Pollard continues: "The politicians are not scared of anyone. Not long ago there was a demonstration of 200,000 people in Israel. I am disgusted by the sight of politicians speaking empty words in front of such a huge crowd and, in the end, doing nothing. It speaks volumes about these politicians."

Rabbi Eliyahu: (smiles) "We know that Noah was commanded to bring everyone into the ark in pairs (male and female). When 'falsehood' wanted to enter the ark, he was asked to wait for his mate. 'Vanity' showed up to be his mate and from this marriage 'politics' was born!"

Pollard: (sighs) "The Israeli government has abandoned me to the hands of the machers. For the American authorities this is good; they're waiting for time to do its job."

Rabbi Eliyahu: "They won't achieve this."

Pollard: "I ask of the honored Rav to pray on my behalf that I merit a swift return home to my wife and to learn Torah in the Holy Land. There is only one place to learn Torah and that is Israel."

Rabbi Eliyahu: "Indeed, it says so explicitly: 'From Zion will come forth Torah and the words of G-d from Jerusalem.'"

Before they part, Pollard speaks in a voice laden with emotion: "I am deeply thankful to the Rav, and I pray every day that the honored Rav fare well. We all need and depend on the Rav. May G-d bless!"

On the way back from the prison, Rabbi Zafrani asked Rabbi Eliyahu about the obvious link between the decline in values in secular Israeli society and the government's abandonment of Pollard.

Rabbi Eliyahu's silence in response said more than any words could say.

*J4JP Note:

This article was originally published in Mishpacha Magazine (07/04/07), under the title 'Promise of a Better Life'. The current title, 'Under the Wings of the Shechina', reflects the oft-repeated admonition of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, that as long as Jonathan Pollard is in prison, the Shechina (the Divine Presence) remains in prison with him. Rabbi Eliyahu has often said, it is bad enough that no mercy is shown to Jonathan, but worse still, by keeping Jonathan in prison no mercy is shown to the Shechina!

See Also:

  • Interview with Rav Shmuel Zafrani, Chief of Staff to HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu

    Arutz7 interviewed Rav Shmuel Zafrani in Hebrew following a prison visit 13 June 2007 by HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu and his entourage to Jonathan Pollard at FCI Butner, NC, where Pollard is serving a life sentence. Rav Zafrani speaks of Pollard's deplorable physical condition after 22 years of harsh treatment in prison; he speaks of the failure of the Israeli Government to make the most minimal efforts to rescue her agent, who saved thousands of lives when he supplied vital security information to the State; and he speaks of the direct link between Israel's immoral treatment of Jonathan Pollard, from the moment he was thrown out of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, to the on-going betrayals and abandonments of Israeli soldiers, civilians and communities to this very day.

  • Video: FrontLineIsrael TV interview of Esther Pollard

    Esther Pollard shares the inside story of what really happened with her husband, Jonathan Pollard, who is serving his 22nd year of a life sentence in an American prison for serving Israel and the Jewish People.