Pollard's Had Enough!

Rabbi Avi Weiss - The Jewish Voice & Opinion - March 1993

My most recent visit with Jonathan Pollard last month was the most difficult since I began visiting him in August 1988 in Marion Penitentiary. I had to bring him the news that the National Jewish Community Relations Council (NJCRAC) had voted not to send a letter to President Clinton asking for a review of Pollard's case with an eye toward commutation. I knew Jonathan would be deeply disappointed, and I didn't want him to suffer alone.

We embraced and sat opposite each other. I reached out to hold his hand, as I always do throughout my visits, in order to provide the simple human connection that his solitary confinement denies him, as it is intended to do.

Within minutes, I told him: "Jonathan, we were turned down by NJCRAC,"

Hs head dropped; his eyes glistened; we sat in silence. My thoughts wandered to the delegate from Miami who had risen in the NJCRAC debate to declare about Jonathan, "I feel absolutely no moral or legal obligation to help a common criminal."

Sitting in silence near Jonathan, I thought of the callousness of that remark, and the absence of any mercy toward a fellow Jew that is shamelessly revealed.

The Battle

Gradually, Jonathan began to share his pain. "I feel punch drunk. I've been in a battle for eight years. Every day I rise is a victory. Sometimes, the depression is so deep, I can't get up. I make it only because of determination. I know the consequences of surrender."

"I've survived by not personalizing this case. If I took this personally, I would have given up a long time ago," Jonathan declared. "This is not just a case of Jonathan Pollard, but one of Jewish empowerment."

Soon Jonathan's words began to flow. His immediate reaction, one of emotional despondency gave way to fury at NJCRAC's action. The theme he returned to over and over was that of empowerment, of who speaks for the Jewish community.

Thankful for Support

"I'm proud and deeply thankful for all the support I did receive from various NJCRAC delegates. I know it's difficult to stand up and speak truth to power. The vote established the fact that even in an organization whose leadership has been so evil toward me, the membership is making its views felt. This can only be for good as far as the Jewish community s concerned.

To NJCRAC's Inaction

"What should be kept in mind is that the grass-roots Jewish community is not divided on this issue," Jonathan explained. "The vote, which revealed a badly divided NJCRAC, clearly suggests that the organization does not reflect the Jewish community's consensus towards me. The propriety of my low opinion of many in NJCRAC has been reconfirmed.

"In the final analysis, this vote did more to discredit NJCRAC than it did to hurt me. It's time for representative government in the Jewish community. The vote is a slap in the face of the ordinary Jew, the rabbinate, and over 100 other secular organizations which have come to my defense. It's time for the Jewish community to draw some lessons from NJCRAC's disdain for it."


And then, there in the hellhole of Marion, having just heard the devastating news that NJCRAC had abandoned him, Jonathan laughed. Besides, he declared, "I don't want to be confused with anyone who actually takes them seriously. True, I'm concerned about what message this sends to the President. If NJCRAC doesn't want to deal with this issue, why should the President?" He paused and then said forcefully, "We'll just have to rededicate our efforts to show the President what the grass-roots community thinks about this case."

I showed Jonathan the JTA news story on the vote. He became livid. "JTA has been writing pieces as if it is a spokesman for the Federations. I'm not asking for panegyrics, but JTA has an obligation to the Jewish community to share the hard news of this case. They made little and most often no mention of resolutions drafted on my behalf by the Canadian Jewish Congress, the British Board of Deputies, Hadassah, the International Association of Jewish lawyers and jurists. They've spiked all that information. I've sent these resolutions and other information to Jewish editors around the country. Many have written me and asked: 'Why wasn't this picked up by the JTA?"

It seemed to Jonathan that JTA was excessively concerned with the suffering of NJCRAC leadership. "Imagine quoting NJCRAC delegates who spoke of being unfairly criticized by 'Pollard activists' without reporting the other side, without pointing out the reasons for the criticism. It was not what Phil Baum [chair of the NJCRAC ad hoc Pollard committee] and his colleagues did not do, but what they did do - against me."

Non-Jewish Rabbis?

Jonathan told me he had in mind two of Baum's actions in particular. Baum responded to the Oct. 23, 1992 full-page ad in the New York Times signed by 570 rabbis and 65 rabbinic organizations urging former President Bush to commute Jonathan's sentence by declaring that "the Pollard issue is not a Jewish one and this ad does not make it one." Baum also upbraided Dr. Edward Goldberg of Chicago for supporting, in court, Anne Pollard's claim that she had received poor medical attention in prison. The incident was widely reported in Anglo-Jewish papers, but ignored by JTA.

"The reporter," Jonathan continued, "left unchallenged Rabbi Eric Yoffie's [vice-president of the Reform Union of American Hebrew Congregations] statement that others have been sentenced as harshly as I've been. Nonsense. I'd like to know which sentence was comparable to mine."

The JTA piece portrayed NJCRAC leaders as the victims and Pollard and his supporters as the victimizers. But while they go home every night, Jonathan is in his eighth year of solitary confinement in the toughest prison in this country. Even if NJCRAC delegates felt aggrieved by Pollard supporters who had criticized them, should they have retaliated against Jonathan himself?


Time was passing quickly. We spoke of family, of dreams. I had brought my tefillin. In recent months, Jonathan had not donned them. Overzealous guards would split the boxes open, and Jonathan could not endure their desecration. This time, however, he felt inclined to put them on, As he stood and recited the shema, I said the prayer I say daily: "G-d in heaven, bless Jonathan Pollard; sustain him, carry him, and help him move from darkness to light, from imprisonment to freedom."

I could hear the clang of the outer doors. The guard was coming to escort me. Seven hours had passed quickly, and the visit was over.

I looked into Jonathan's eyes. Kabbalists say that the eyes are the gateway to the soul; they reveal true inner feelings. I could see that Jonathan had been deeply wounded, and was reaching deep into his soul for the energy to go on.

As I left the prison - the 28th time I had been there visiting Jonathan - it occurred to me that no member of the NJCRAC Pollard committee had ever visited him. I wish those NJCRAC delegates would only look into his eyes.