An article by Jonathan Pollard’s wife makes an impression

December 30, 2020 by Rabbi Chaim Ingram
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On 20th Kislev (15th December), five days before Chanuka, my wife and I celebrated 28 years since first arriving on the shores of Sydney, our new home…writes Rabbi Chaim Ingram.

Jonathan Pollard and his wife Esther in the first photograph following his release from prison. Credit: Justice for Jonathan Pollard.

I must confess that some years we let the anniversary just pass us by. However this year, I felt particular gratitude welling up in my heart. While the Covid pandemic has wrought devastation in almost every populous country in the world, notably UK (my former home), USA (the least said the better) and Israel (where, blessedly, my daughter and her family have kept well), and while currently, Sydney is experiencing what will hopefully turn out to be only a very minor blip, barukh haShem Australia has remained a haven of relative safety. As my new daughter-in-law for other reasons, texted me: Selfishly, I think you made a great decision 28 years ago!  Indeed this year, bearing in mind the discipline my fellow-citizens have shown and are showing, I am especially proud to call myself an Aussie!

After Shacharit, when I came home that morning of the anniversary, I felt a sudden desire to recite my favourite stirring words from the Nishmat prayer we say every Shabbat:  Were our mouths as full of song as the sea, our tongue full of joyous melody as its multitude of waves, our lips flled with praise as the breadth of the heavens, our eyes brilliant as the sun and moon, our hands outspread like the eagles of the sky and our feet swift as deer – we still couldn’t thank you sufficiently, G-D ….for even one of the billions of favours, miracles and wonders that You did for our ancestors and us,

 After I said it feelingly, I settled down to breakfast and opened a section of the Hamodia I hadn’t yet looked at.  Imagine my surprise when I turned to an article commencing with the very words from the Nishmat I had just recited, writ large on the page!

However that was nothing compared with the amazement I experienced when I took cognizance of the lady who was proclaiming them and asking others to do likewise.  And even that was zilch in comparison with the stupefaction I experienced as I read her follow-up declaration:  These words from Nishmat …express precisely how my husband and I understand the last 35 years of our life.

The authoress of this article was Esther Pollard, wife of Jonathan Jay Pollard who recently was declared a free man after 30 years of cruel incarceration and five years of virtual house arrest as punishment for his espionage activities on behalf of Israel.

Let me again, dear readers, make it crystal clear: Esther Pollard was not expressing her gratitude just for her beloved husband’s newly-acquired freedom. She was also offering it for the 35 unspeakable years of torment and torture that he had undergone.

Never can I recall witnessing such a clear living embodiment of the Talmudic saying (Berakhot 60b) that a person is enjoined to bless G-D for bad happenings just as s/he does on good…. If you will say “one says the blessing HaTov veHaMativ on bad just as s/he does on good”, clearly this is not the case, for the Mishna has taught us …. on bad we say Barukh Dayan HaEmet. Said Rava: This statement is necessary only to teach us to accept misfortune with [the same] joy [that we receive good]!

It is one thing to teach this seminal lesson in theory; it is quite another to be capable of putting it into practice in such a sublime way!  To proclaim the joy, faith, trust of Nishmat for the torment as well as the triumph!

Esther tells us of the damage done to Jonathan’s body through the “merciless beatings” inflicted by his captors when interrogating him.  But, she testifies, “they never succeeded in breaking his spirit or his mind” Or his faith.

She continues: “For seven years he sat in solitary confinement, three storeys underground, behind 13 locks and keys, and never saw the sun, or a tree or a blade of grass”. The warden had told him that the only way he would ever leave the prison would be ‘feet first in a body bag’” Jonathan, apparently responded: G-D runs the world, not you whereupon he was tasered with a cattle prod leaving him writhing and incapacitated on top of which he was charged with ‘incitement to riot’!  Indeed the idea that G-D is present in such an unspeakable cesspit of hell must have seemed riotously funny and ludicrous to that cruel prison guard.

After seven years in that dungeon at USP Marion, Illinois followed by 23 years at FCI Butner, North Carolina where he suffered death threats, malnutrition and health crises and five years under severe parole restrictions “which served no purpose other than to embitter his life”, Pollard was finally told on the very last day of review, 20th November, 2020, that k’heref ayin, he was a free man. But unfortunately, due to Covid-19 and Esther’s ill-health, their long-awaited plans to make Aliya have been placed on further hold.  Still, Esther urges us all to join her in a heartfelt, joyous, faith-affirming proclamation of Nishmat. Not just for his freedom. But as she has told thousands of readers of Hamodia, for all the pain as well as all the gain.  

I do not know Pollard’s motives, whether, as alleged, he did it for money or purely for love of Israel. Since there was no official trial due to a plea bargain (which the judge ultimately ignored), we shall probably never know the full facts .There is little doubt that his violations needed to be judged and appropriate punitive measures administered. But there is also no doubt that the cruel custodial sentence which he suffered was so far in excess of what was reasonable as to constitute a criminal miscarriage of justice.  Whether latent antisemitism was behind it is a discussion which can be had another day. As is discussion on the urgent need for prison reform in general in so-called advanced free Western societies.

What I find truly remarkable is the Pollards’ ability to let go of all anger and resentment and to see the past 35 excruciating years as a part of G-D’s plan in which they see only the good. That undoubtedly includes having found each other and having grown into full Jewish commitment and observance despite – or perhaps because of – his unspeakable suffering. Who can fathom the depth of G-D’s ways!

Above all, their triumph of spirit over brutal adversity recalls to mind at this season the inspirational spirit of the Judean resistance where the spark of faith which could so easily have been extinguished instead grew and led to the miracles of Chanuka.

For those of us who have suffered nothing more than inconvenience, isolation and belt-tightening since the Covid-19 scourge began, the unquenchable faith of the Pollards in the spirit of the heroes of the Chanuka story will hopefully prove a humble reality check as well as a tremendous inspiration. Let us follow Esther Pollard’s lead and express our gratitude to G-D for all of His goodnesses through the words of the incomparable prayer of Nishmat  or in any other way we see fit!

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