Five Hours Behind Bars

January 4, 1993 - Rabbi Barry Dov Schwartz - NY Newsday

Recently three rabbis, Rabbi Barry Dov Schwartz, Rabbi Shalom Stern and Rabbi Kenneth Hain visited Jonathan Pollard at USP Marion where he is held in solitary confinement in K-Unit - the harshest unit of the meanest prison in the federal system. Among other things that Jonathan Pollard discussed with the rabbis during their 5 hour visit was his deep remorse. Rabbi Barry Dov Schwartz recounts:

Dreary. Drizzly. Deep fog. The weather fit the Occasion as we drove from the St. Louis Airport to the Federal Penitentiary in Marion Illinois to visit Jonathan Pollard. Seven years ago Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment for passing secret documents to Israel.

Three rabbis. Our mission: to share the pain of a fellow Jew, as required by Jewish law, to take away a few hours of isolation from a man confined to a call for 23 hours a day; to publicize the disproportionately excessive punishment imposed on Jonathan Pollard.

Those of us who advocate commutation of Pollard's sentence do not in any way condone his action, The man is guilty. Spying is an intolerable crime, He should be punished. But no more harshly than any other spy. Those following the Pollard case must take into consideration that he cooperated with the government throughout the entire ordeal; that he spied for an ally in time of peace and not for an enemy of our country; that the information he passed on, while helping Israel in her fight for survival, never once compromised the national security of America,, that he is remorseful and has stated so publicly on many occasions. Bearing in mind that his accusers stated for the official record, which is now in Pollard's "parole jacket", that "Pollard should never again see the light of day," chances for parole are negligible. A presidential commutation of sentence is Jonathan's only viable hope.

Jonathan Pollard is everything you would expect a spy not to be. He is sweet in his demeanor, innocent in his thinking, idealistic in his philosophy, "I did what I had to do to warn Israel of impending disaster from Iraqi weapons. I was concerned about Israel's survival. But he was quick to add; "I now realize that I should have taken another course of action to help the Jewish state. I made a terrible mistake."

Our visit deep within the penitentiary walls, in the below ground K-unit, would have been unbearable and overwhelming were it not for Jonathan's incredible optimism and faith. Against greater odds than are imaginable, he is an observant Jew trying to maintain the dietary rules of kashrut. He spends his days reading and studying religious, secular and scientific works. He yearns for the day when he will be able to make a scientific contribution for the welfare of society. There is no doubt that he, like this Biblical Joseph who also spent much of his years in prison, is a visionary. In solitary confinement, one only has dreams to help maintain sanity.

Dreams and visitors. He is so grateful for human contact from the outside world. His "inside world'" provides no comfort: John Walker, who with his family gave secrets to Russia resulting in the lose of many American lives, Edward Wilson, who sold 20 tons of explosives to Kadaffi and was involved in the Pan Am 103 disaster, Joseph Franklin, who shot Vernon Jordan, bombed three synagogues in Kentucky and went on a killing spree against interracial couples. Among these vultures, Jonathan Pollard resides. Pollard, who killed no one, nor caused the loss of life of any American or American agent, nor conspired with any enemy of the U.S

Not that he is proud of what he did. By his own admission he is no hero. He speaks of his crime. "G-d forbid that I should ever become a role model for anyone, young or old... I have changed over the years from one who used to see everything as black or white. These days, I think in shades of gray. Zealousness was a disease that I was afflicted with in my youth. Maturity has changed the way I view life. Love, even love of country, has to be channeled in the right direction. Unbridled passion can be disastrous, as it was in my case."

The five hours behind bars moved quickly for us. We were taken aback when the guards indicated that our time had ended. We had entered the visitors' cell with a few gifts for Jonathan: a prayer book, prayer shawl and phylacteries, study material, Chanukah cards from my Hebrew School children. Nothing could remain with Jonathan who is strip-searched before re-entering his private hell. He would return to his cell with no tangible evidence of our visit.

Only time - timelessness - to remember that three rabbis have not forgotten prisoner 09185/016.

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