A Bad Deal

Esther Pollard - Special to IMRA - December 22, 2009

[May be reprinted with attribution]

The news headlines this week have been urgent, sensational and quite uniform. Regardless of the news source, the people of Israel are up to their eyeballs in the media's obsession with a morally bereft, indefensible prisoner deal that threatens the security and lives of all Israeli citizens.

Lots of schmaltzy tear-jerker photos, bumper stickers, t-shirts, demos, professional PR babble, poster boys and an endless array of idolatrous, glitzy offerings keep the public from thinking too much. Anyone who dares suggest that this prisoner deal is not the solution, but an abomination that threatens to create more terror problems than the one it solves, is sidelined at best, or vilified at worst.

All this jive talk about the morality of saving our soldier at any price, and citing high-minded principles such as the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim as the basis for this assumption, simply do not ring true. There is, without a doubt, a self-serving hypocrisy at work here.

Reading the newspapers today made me think back to a different time in my own life, and the lessons learned from the special children I once taught.

By profession, I am a teacher of learning disabled children. For a number of years I ran a bilingual (French and English) Special Education Learning Center under the auspices of a major Canadian school board. My Learning Center provided remedial support for children in regular programs with specific issues.

After a few years, I "graduated" from the Learning Center to a closed Special Education classroom setting where I taught children from ages 8 to 12 in a fulltime Special Ed program.

My students were suffering, not only from learning disabilities, but even more so from the concomitant social and emotional problems that usually accompany these disabilities. Many of the children I taught were the ones no one wanted in the regular classrooms. Not just slow or intellectually challenged, but often severely lacking in impulse control, my kids were the ones that were deemed "disruptive", "uncooperative", and "uncontrollable" by other teachers.

Some children would spend 2 or 3 years in my Special Ed classroom before they were ready to move on. In that time, we (my assistant and I) worked very hard with the children every day and little by little we watched miracles sprout! Often a child who left my classroom at the end of 3 years for a High School program bore little or no resemblance to the child who had come into the program several years before.

Pedagogy is not everything. I am sure that my methods are no better and no worse than other teachers. In hindsight, I think that what really made the difference for the kids I taught was two-fold. First of all, they knew that I loved my job and I was happy to be teaching them. They knew, even without words, that I really cared about them and wanted to help them. And they knew the same was true of my educational assistant who worked by my side in the classroom.

Secondly, for most of these children, this was their first experience of being in an atmosphere where religious belief and moral principles set the tone for our everyday interactions and our work.

Don't get me wrong. I am not talking about religious coercion of any sort. I am talking about the fact that both my assistant and I - the two people who interacted with the children, every single day, for 8 hours a day, sometimes for years on end - were both religious. I am an orthodox Jew and my assistant was a devout Greek Orthodox. (My assistant before her, was a devout Catholic.) Our religious beliefs and practice were anything but similar. But the faith we lived with on a daily basis and the moral consistency that we displayed towards the children in our everyday actions, seems to me, to be what really made the difference.

For many of the children this was a new experience to know that it is not just the teacher who is watching everything you say or do. G-d is watching too. He is helping and guiding, and being there for all of us, all of the time. And He watches over the teachers too. Whether we do right or wrong, G-d is always there. Good actions bring rewards. Bad actions cause problems, pain, trouble etc. The children loved to explore their own new-found faith in a "guiding power" and to enter into discussions during our "circle time" sitting on the carpet and sharing ideas.

Derek was one of those children who went through a complete metamorphosis in a few short years. Not that his reading or his math were all "fixed" by the time he left my classroom. But socially and emotionally, he went from being a child with no impulse control, a child who daily threw tantrums and fits, who routinely physically threatened teachers and the other children; to being a polite, well-mannered, good-natured little gentleman, who was a pleasure to teach!

I thought of Derek today, in the context of the immoral prisoner deal that being is foisted upon the people of Israel. Little Derek, is probably a fine young man today, perhaps he even has children of his own by now. And I bet he could teach us all a thing or two about this prisoner release. Here is what he taught me.

We were sitting in our circle on the carpet and the children were sharing their thoughts on any number of subjects. Suddenly Derek put up his hand and said, "Mrs. Pollard, I need to ask you a question!"

"Go ahead, Derek," I said.

"Mrs. Pollard, G-d is always watching, right?"

"Yes, Derek."

"Good actions bring good results, right?" Derek continued.

"Yes," I responded, "that is true."

"And bad actions bring trouble, right?"

"Yes," I replied, "that is certainly true as well!"

"Well," said Derek, "what happens, Mrs. Pollard, if someone does something bad, but he doesn't believe in G-d? Will he still be punished? Or if he doesn't believe in G-d maybe it doesn't matter what he does?"

"Derek," I countered, "Can you put your question into one sentence?"

"I want to know," said Derek, "what happens when a person who doesn't believe in G-d does something bad - will he get away with it?"

"Derek," I asked, "Do you see this wall right in front of you?" Derek and all of the children were a little taken aback by my response.

"Yes," said Derek, "I see it." He looked at me questioningly.

"Derek," I continued, "What would happen if you try to run through the wall into the corridor outside?"

"I would hurt myself!" Derek responded.

"Fair enough," I said, "but what would happen if you don't believe the wall is there?!"

"That's silly!" Derek shot back. "Of course the wall is there!"

"Well, pretend for a minute that you don't believe the wall is there and you try to run through it into the corridor outside. What would happen? Would you still hurt yourself if you don't believe the wall is there?" I repeated.

Derek was quiet for a second. Then suddenly his face lit up and he flashed a big smile. "Oh!" he exclaimed, "I get it!"

The rest of his words came rushing out in a torrent, "Wow! It doesn't matter whether you believe in G-d or not, He is still there! I get it! G-d is always there! Good actions bring good results. No one gets away with anything! For good or for bad, no one gets away with anything!"

If only our Prime Minister and all his sage advisors would also get it!

Little Derek, with all his intellectual flaws, burdened by a difficult home situation, suffering from the effects of poverty, poorly nourished and severely undereducated, but at the age of 12, he got it! He understood! No one can escape the consequences of their own actions. Good begets good and bad begets bad. It is that simple.

A good deal recommends itself. A bad deal has consequences.

Esther Pollard is the wife of the American-born Israeli captive, Jonathan Pollard, who is serving his

25th year in an American prison

for his activities on behalf of the security of the State of Israel.