Pesach is the Yom Tov of Geulah.
Every year, each member of Klal Yisrael merits the possibility to achieve lofty levels of spiritual redemption; it is up to us to take advantage of this remarkable opportunity.
It is also a most opportune time for a personal geulah.
As we prepare to usher in this glorious Yom Tov, this is the most appropriate time to think about Yehonasan ben Malka. As we get ready to celebrate our freedom from Egyptian bondage, this is when we American Jews should look into our own hearts and souls and examine what we have done — and failed to do — to help Jonathan Pollard, now in his 30th year of a life sentence, to obtain his freedom. More than a quarter century has passed since Jonathan finished serving the median sentence of two to four years for the crime he committed — passing classified information to an ally. No one has served anywhere close to the amount of time that Jonathan already has for this offense.
It is important to realize what the information that Jonathan gave the Israelis was all about. It was not about America; it was information about Israel’s sworn enemies that America was supposed to — but didn’t want to — share with Israel.
Newly declassified documents confirmed that Jonathan, motivated by a genuine concern for the safety of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael, gave over crucial material relating to grave threats against Israel. This included information about how the Pakistanis were attempting to build a nuclear-capable rocket with a range sufficient to reach Tel Aviv; how the Iraqis were secretly manufacturing nerve gas specifically for use against Israeli urban areas and how the Syrians were in the process of receiving covert shipments of new surface-to-surface missiles that were accurate enough to knock out Israeli air bases for the first time.
Another recently declassified document specifically states that Israel never requested information from Jonathan concerning “U.S. military activities, plans, capabilities, or equipment.” These documents point to the same conclusion: Jonathan Pollard’s activities may have ruffled some feathers in the Middle East, but there was no material impact on U.S. national security.
Though he acted out of a well-placed concern for the safety of his brethren, on numerous occasions Jonathan has expressed his sincere regret for breaking the law and not finding a legal way to help Israel.
But it is now clear to every intelligent observer that the reason Jonathan is still in prison isn’t because of what he did three decades ago. He is still in jail because of who he is and whom he tried to help.
I was recently asked by a respected member of our community why the U.S. government is so determined to keep Pollard behind bars. My response was to refer to a letter that former CIA director R. James Woolsey wrote to The Wall Street Journal.
“For those hung up for some reason on the fact that he’s an American Jew, pretend he’s a Greek- or Korean- or Filipino-American, and free him.”
In his letter to the president asking for clemency, Professor Lawrence J. Korb, who served as Assistant Secretary of Defense when Pollard was arrested, put it succinctly.
“Based on my first-hand knowledge, I can say with confidence that the severity of Pollard’s sentence is a result of an almost visceral dislike of Israel and the special place it occupies in our foreign policy on the part of my boss at the time, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.
“Secretary Weinberger submitted two affidavits to the court in order to convince the judge to give Pollard a harsher sentence than the one requested by the government, despite Pollard admitting guilt, plea bargaining and cooperating with the government,” Korb wrote.
This heart-wrenching saga includes broken promises by American officials, a cruel, unprecedented betrayal by the Israeli government, and a shocking abandonment by most of the American Jewish community. The fact that he has managed to remain so strong in the face of such adversity is a powerful testament to his lofty level of emunah and bitachon, and to the heroic mesirus nefesh of his wife, Mrs. Esther Pollard, on his behalf.
But while studying the facts of the case so that we can successfully argue its merits is very important, we can’t allow the misdeeds of others to distract us from our own obligations.
The halachah in Shulchan Aruch is unequivocal: “There is no mitzvah that is [as great] as pidyon shevuyim,” declares Rambam. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 252:1–4) rules that pidyon shevuyim takes precedence over all other types of tzedakah, and even when money has been collected for any other cause, it may be diverted for the sake of ransoming a captive.
“Every moment that one delays freeing captives in situations when it is possible to expedite their freedom, is considered tantamount to the shedding of blood!” the Shulchan Aruch states.
Can we truly say that our hands aren’t shedding this blood?
Avraham Avinu placed his life in grave danger to gain freedom for his nephew Lot, and ever since then his descendants have done their utmost to free their captive and imprisoned brethren.
Can we honestly say that we are following his example and doing our part?
There is much that can and must be done.
First and foremost, we must underscore the pivotal importance of tefillah. Only the Ribbono shel Olam can secure his release, and each and every tefillah, every kapital of Tehillim, every donation to tzedakah and every mitzvah performed in Jonathan’s merit makes a huge difference.
But as Torah Jews, we are cognizant of the fact that along with our heartfelt tefillos, we must do our hishtadlus and do all that is humanly possible to perform the lofty mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim.
There is much that can be done.
First and foremost, we as a community and on an individual basis must recognize that this is our task and our responsibility.
Granted, Jonathan was an agent of the Israeli government when he was arrested. But for years the Israelis cruelly betrayed him, and even when they finally were forced to acknowledge that he was indeed acting on their behalf, the Israeli government, for the most part, did little if anything to help him.
With the relationship between the American and Israeli governments currently at an all-time low, it is more important than ever to send a powerful message to the White House that this isn’t about an Israeli agent; this is about an American Jew in poor health who is the victim of a terrible travesty of justice.
In the past year, Jonathan has even been refused conditional release on parole.
Recently, Jonathan was notified by the Parole Commission that the government continues to embrace the long discredited lie that his crime was “so serious that there are no upper limits” as to how long they can keep him incarcerated. The notice reads that his “30-year mandatory release date is not automatic” and he should be aware that he may well continue to be imprisoned at least “45 years or more.”
Pidyon shevuyim calls for setting aside all other calculations and acting with mesirus nefesh.
It is imperative that the American government realizes that our community will not rest until Jonathan is freed, and his plight is at the very top of our list of priorities. We must send a message to the White House that kol Yisrael areivem zeh bazeh. Until Jonathan is freed, part of each and every one of us is in prison.
It is time that at every fund-raising dinner or breakfast arranged by a Jewish organization, the saga of Jonathan Pollard be an integral part of the program. It is crucial that all those in attendance — including the politicians — get the message just how pivotal his release is to our community.
It is time that dues-paying members ask the leaders of Jewish organizations on a regular basis, “Tell us what you are doing for Jonathan.” Followed by, “Are you really sure we can’t do more than that?”
It is time that when members of our community — in any capacity — meet with elected officials, the very first question should be: “What have you done to convince the president to commute the sentence of Jonathan Pollard to time served?”
It is time that the U.S. senators and congressmen who represent areas with large Jewish constituencies should be directly told that our votes — and campaign donations — are dependent on their personally appealing to President Obama to end this terrible travesty.
It is time that we all prove to the Ribbono shel Olam that we really do care about His beloved child who is locked up in Butner, North Carolina, and we are committed to fulfilling the great mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim.
May Hakadosh Baruch Hu grant us the wisdom to undertake the right hishtadlus, and may He hear our tefillos and speedily free Yehonasan ben Malka.