Visiting Jonathan Pollard in an American Prison: An Interview with Ha-Rav Shlomo Aviner

[Parashah Sheet "Olam Katan" – Vayigash 5771]

How does one arrange a meeting like this?
"I do not know the process, since they arranged it for me, but I do know that it takes many months to receive permission such as this. The one who arranged all of this is Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Vice President of 'Young Israel'. He displays self-sacrifice to visit Jonathan at every opportunity, and he also accompanied me on this visit."

Can Ha-Rav describe the entrance and checking process before one reaches Jonathan?
"There is a serious checking process there, and it is forbidden to enter with anything. Not a pencil, not a camera, not even a handkerchief or a piece of paper. Nothing. You enter and a metal door is closed. You then enter a hallway, and a metal door is open and then another door and another door, and the place is filled with cameras. They also stamp your hand with an invisible stamp, and when you leave, they check, with the help of ultraviolet, that it is you, in order that you do not switch with the prisoner. It seems that there are people with self-sacrifice who are willing to switch with the prisoner… In brief, it is impossible to escape from there, it thus appears"… Ha-Rav clarifies for anyone planning.

We'll arrange another flight for Pollard
Besides Rabbi Pesach Lerner, a Rabbi/teacher from Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim accompanied Ha-Rav Aviner, and a representative of the American Government was also present during the entire conversation. Ha-Rav Aviner mentioned that the businessman, Shlomo Zakheim, offered his private plane to transport Ha-Rav for the visit. "He is a wealthy man who each day performs kindnesses in many places with much money and time."
A problem was discovered with the plane a short time after take-off. They turned around and the landing was without problems. Zakheim quickly descended the plane and another rented plane was waiting for them. "Just as you buy a pen when your pen does not write, he rented another plane," Ha-Rav said in astonishment. "Regarding these two Jews, Zakheim and Rabbi Lerner, Jonathan said that without them he does not know where he and his wife would be today, since the Government of Israel does not help him and his wife."

People say that Pollard is not so healthy. Did Ha-Rav observe this?
"In general, he is sick and he recently had another complication, but one does not sense this about him. He smiles, speaks in moderation, quietly and with knowledge. He possesses a sharp, analytical mind, creativity, and also a good sense of humor. You do not see any of this about him, and this is great strength, since the following night, he felt really awful. But when one comes to see him, he strengthens himself, and you do not see any of it."

Does he succeed in having any hope?
"He has hope. Firstly, because he is a man of great faith. Additionally, as is known, there was been an awakening both in Israel and outside of Israel. A senior aide to Caspar Weinberger (Secretary of Defense of American during the time of Pollard's arrest), named Korb, was the person who presented the memo, following which Jonathan received a life sentence with a recommendation not to grant him clemency. This same Korb recently said that this memo was not true, i.e. Jonathan was blamed for things he did not do. There is therefore an awakening in the US and in Israel."

What did you talk about?
"He spoke the whole time and I just listened. At the end of the conversation, he said that he knows me, because every week he reads the Parashah Sheet of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim. This sheet is distributed on the internet in Hebrew, English, Russian, French, and Spanish. He therefore knows what I think on all subjects (to receive the Parashah Sheet, e-mail: mororly@bezeqint.net). In general, he knows everything that is happening in Israel and America. He said that he is concerned about the Nation of Israel. This man is in love with the Nation of Israel with a great yearning. He said: "I want to get out of here not necessarily for myself but for the Nation of Israel. Since the Nation of Israel needs to withstand future tests, which will not be simple, I want to be together with her." These are not merely words. If another person said such things, people would say to him that his words don't amount to much. But as Jonathan displayed self-sacrifice for the Nation of Israel and endangered himself for the sake of the Nation of Israel, it is therefore possible to believe him.
By the way, he also displays self-sacrifice in the service of Hashem. It is not easy to observe Shabbat in an American prison, but he observes Shabbat, eats Kosher, and also acts modestly with self-sacrifice. There are people, when faced with hardships in life, who begin to raise objections against the Master of the Universe, but he is the exact opposite. When he entered prison, he was not religious, and here – of all places – he became religious. He has to drink large quantities of water on account of a medical problem, and he says: 'This is an opportunity for me to recite a lot of blessings.'
Obviously, it greatly pains him that the Government ignores him and does nothing for him. What bothers him is not only how they relate to him, but that the Government of Israel does not act, as one would expect, in a Jewish and ethical manner in this matter. He says: 'If the Government had said that it could not help, this would be something else.' But the sense they transmit is that they do not want to help. It took approximately ten years until the State of Israel recognized its agent, and this was only following a ruling of the Supreme Court, which he approached and convinced. Only for this reason is there a document today which testifies that he is an official spy of the State of Israel. But this document has not been brought to the U.S. And as long as there is not official statement of responsibility from the State of Israel, in the U.S., he is presumed to be a criminal or traitor, and not as an agent of a friendly country, with which it has a special relationship."

It always seems that there is a detail which we are missing in this story. Why is he estranged by the Government?
"I do not understand political matters such as this. Some claim that if he is released from prison, he will open his mouth and will say many things. Following this, many important people will be blamed for all sorts of things, and there are therefore many important people both in Israel and America who are not interested in his release. But all of these are theories and we do not really know. Regardless, the most surprising thing is why we do not bang on the table and say: Give him to us. Until this day, we have not said to the Americans, even once, that we want him. There was a request, signed by 109 Knesset members, but this request was not passed on to the Americans. The Americans are not able to know this on their own. It is therefore correct that something here is not understandable. It is also not understandable why the Americans do not want to release him. Nevertheless, none of these theories relieve us of our obligation to what this demand."

Did Ha-Rav update him about things being done for him in Israel?
"He knows everything better than I do."

What can we do for him, at least on a personal level?
"Firstly, we can send him letters. And in this area, his words have been published in the newspapers, that the letters he receives are oxygen to him. Therefore, please write him. Everyone can write him, but you must write in English, since everything has to pass the censor. But it does not necessarily have to be in clear English. Just the opposite, he said that when he receives a letter in beautiful English, he understands that someone exerted effort to write in an artificial manner, but when it is in English with mistakes and errors, then he knows that this was an initiative that came from the heart. For a long time now, I personally write him a letter each week. I don't know English so well and I am sure that there are mistakes in my English, but after I heard this from him, I was comforted - it is not so bad that I write with errors."

In general, does he feel betrayed?
"He feels betrayed by the Government of Israel but not by the Nation of Israel. He knows that the Nation of Israel loves him and is interested in him. And if we send him letters, he sees that the Nation of Israel remembers him."

And this is despite the fact that only a small percentage of people send him letters and act for his release?
"This is true, but he does not expect to receive letters from everyone. He sees this as a credible representative sample of the Nation of Israel. He knows the direction of the winds among the Nation and if we ask a simple person among the Nation of Israel, he will answer: "Yes, certainly, Pollard is a good person, etc."

Did Jonathan ask Ha-Rav for something in particular?
"Yes. He humbly said: 'I have an extremely big request from you – when you return to Israel can you plant a fruit tree.' I said that I will certainly make sure to plant a fruit tree for you, and I will ask other communities to do so as well. This is therefore an opportunity to publicize that every community should plant a fruit tree. Every city, every Jew, just one tree. It is also worthwhile to inform him through the site www.freepollard.net. And this will make him happy. In any event, I have two other requests: One request - as we said - is to write him letters in English, and a lot of them. And the second request – to make others aware. Since many people do not know about this story, the more we speak about it the more it helps. The fact is that someone spoke about it here and someone else spoke about it there, and a snowball was created and an awakening occurred in the US. It is therefore important to tell friends and relate it at every opportunity."

Does Ha-Rav know how often Pollard receives a visit such as this?
"I have no idea, but I know that the day after our visit, he was going to have a visit from a group of scientists from America, in order to discuss a scientific matter, which he had thought about."