After serving 30 years in prison for passing classified U.S. secrets about Arab countries to Israel — information that helped save many Jewish lives — Jonathan Pollard was finally released on parole in November of 2015, albeit under extremely severe restrictions.
In an exclusive conversation with Hamodia, the only interview he has granted to an American media outlet, Pollard explains why he is breaking his self-imposed silence. In a candid talk that took place in the tiny Manhattan studio apartment he shares with his wife, Mrs. Esther Pollard, Jonathan reveals his innermost feelings to the broader Jewish community.
When you were finally released on parole three and a half years ago, you were determined to keep a low profile and refrain from giving interviews.
What happened to change your mind?
A life-and-death situation arose. My wife, Esther, went for a routine mammogram. The results were troubling, so a biopsy was performed. When biopsy results confirmed that Esther was struck by cancer yet again — for the third time — the ground fell out from under me.
So you decided to go public?
No. Not at that point.
What happened next?
We had a meeting with a world-famous oncologist, Dr. Yashar Hirshaut, who is affiliated with Maimonides Hospital, one of the best hospitals in the U.S.
Dr. Hirshaut immediately requested a PET scan for Esther. When the test results came back, we learned that the cancer had metastasized, it had spread to her bones. It became clear to us that Esther’s situation was far worse than we had originally thought. It was now a matter of life and death.
How did you react when you got the bad news?
It’s difficult to describe in words the surge of conflicting emotions I felt at that moment. Esther was with me, so I knew I should be strong for her, but I just started to tremble all over with fear. It took all of my strength not to just bury my head in my hands and cry my eyes out. At the same time, I was overwhelmed with worry about my wife and consumed by the need to protect her and defend her. You have to understand, Esther is my whole world. So this kind of devastating news reduced me to my very essence, and at that point I cried out to the Eibershter to give me the strength I needed at that moment to be strong for Esther, and I was immediately answered.
What do you mean when you say you were answered?
I was immediately filled with the same calmness and resolve that I experienced when I was interrogated in prison and brutally beaten. Both of my ankles were deliberately broken and I was stomped on and viciously kicked so many times that my lower spine was cracked and permanently damaged during these interrogations. Yet no matter how much pain I experienced, I clearly felt that Hakadosh Baruch Hu was there with me, helping to absorb the blows. I felt strong in spite of the trauma, and I did not cry out, and I never broke. It was the same sense of Hashem’s closeness to us that flooded me and filled me with the strength and courage I needed at that devastating moment when I had to comfort and reassure my wife.
Let me first digress for a second to ask, what do you mean when you say you “never broke”? What did your interrogators want from you?
They wanted me to identify prominent American Jews whom I suspected might be involved in spying for Israel. They showed me lists of well-known Jewish people and asked to simply put a check mark beside the ones who should be hauled in for interrogation. They told me that if I cooperated, things would go well for me. They assured me that none of these people would know that I was the one who fingered them and that I would never have to testify against them in court.
You never did what was asked of you.
Absolutely not! A Jew does not accuse or implicate another Jew to the gentiles. Never!
How did your interrogators respond to your refusal to cooperate?
They beat me relentlessly and threatened that each breath I drew might be my last if I didn’t “wise up.” But I never broke. I would rather take the blows than be moser another Jew. I put my life in Hashem’s hands and He brought me through these brutal beatings alive, time and time again. Yishtabach Shemo!
That certainly explains how you’ve learned to spontaneously draw close to Hashem in times of crisis. How did your wife react to the devastating news of her illness?
There is a well known passuk in Mishlei in which Shlomo Hamelech teaches, “Just as water reflects one face to another, so too are the hearts of man.” Esther’s eyes were filled with tears. She looked at me and saw that I was calm, so she too remained calm. She has tremendous emunah and bitachon which, over the years we have been together, have always inspired me to keep growing in these core essentials. We looked at each other and with tears in our eyes reassured each other that with the help of Hakadosh Baruch Hu we would face this challenge together and overcome it.
Was this the moment that you decided to break your silence and go public to seek help?
Not immediately. But it was rapidly becoming clear to both of us that extreme circumstances call for extreme action. I knew we could not fight the Malach Hamaves without a lot of assistance, both from the government of Israel and from our brethren. I had to quickly find the most effective way to cry out for help.
Over the course of the next week, Esther and I discussed it, and we realized that the time had come for me to end my silence. I chose to do an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 News program. We knew from my wife’s decades-long experience with the media that a successful news interview on Israel’s prime-time news program could have the greatest impact. That is exactly what has occurred, Baruch Hashem!
Every husband has obligations to his wife. Every husband should have feelings of gratitude toward his wife. But the gratitude you have for your wife is something unique. She dedicated her life to battling for your freedom in a way that’s virtually unprecedented.
I can’t imagine how I would have survived emotionally or physically, 30 years in prison, without her devotion and mesirus nefesh on my behalf.
She surrounded me with chessed when I was in prison and provided me with a degree of protection and level of devotion which I never knew could exist.
She absolutely was fearless in terms of where she would go or what she would do or who she would speak to or lobby on my behalf.
But, unfortunately, she became a lightning rod for everyone who was either afraid of my case or who opposed it, or who regarded me as a threat to their standing in American society. Consequently, she spent too much of her time fending off attacks from people and quarters that really should never have presented such problems to her, both here in the United States and in Israel. Indeed, so many of the same people who aided, supported and facilitated the activities of other high-profile Jewish prisoners were the same people who slammed the door in Esther’s face and slandered and maligned her wantonly.
Why did these Jewish leaders and activists slander her?
The lies and slander were intended to damage Esther’s credibility in order to silence her. These people realized that Esther was my presence in the real world. She was my voice on the outside. They did everything possible to silence Esther, only in order to silence me. As I live and breathe now, and I sit here in front of you, it is clear that all of these evil efforts to silence my wife did not succeed. Baruch Hashem!
Have you had any more positive experiences with the American Jewish community?
Yes! The amcha, the everyday average Jews that Esther and I encounter, have been wonderful — steadfast in their search for the truth, and dedicated to tefillah to save my life. Now I need everyone’s help to save Esther’s life.
I am asking all of Klal Yisrael, both here in the U.S. and in Eretz HaKodesh, l’harbot b’tefillah [to increase their prayers] for Esther Yocheved bat Raizel Bracha for a refuah sheleimah and a hachlamah meheirah!
I should add that it was our Rav, Harav Mordechai Eliyahu, zt”l, who taught me that the two most precious inspirations in my life, Esther Yocheved and Eretz Yisrael have the same rashei tevot (alef-yud). The Rav indicated that that means that an outpouring of tefillah for Esther Yocheved will bless and benefit Eretz Yisrael at the same time. Who knows, perhaps the Eibershter chose my wife to suffer this machalah in order to generate enough tefillah not only for her but for the redemption of the Land as well.
What kind of help do you need from the government of Israel?
I need help from Prime Minister Netanyahu so that I can take care of my wife. My current draconian parole conditions do not permit me to be the kind of caregiver that Esther desperately needs at this time as she goes through months of intense chemotherapy followed by surgery.
Here are just a few examples that are understood by most people. My parole conditions prevent me from accompanying Esther to her doctors’ appointments in a timely manner. I have to give 72 hours’ notice for each and every appointment, and ask for official permission to leave Manhattan and go to wherever the doctors are located. The same is true for her chemotherapy. I can’t accompany her unless I get special written permission each time. These permissions are not automatically approved. They have to be negotiated every single time, and they can be denied without explanation at any time. This situation keeps us fearful and off-balance and adds a severe burden to an already extremely stressful situation.
Another example of a restriction that impedes my ability to take care of Esther is my 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew. If Esther needs something after 7 p.m., I cannot go out of the house to get it. I cannot get medicine for her after 7 p.m., nor can I spontaneously act on any medical emergency for her when the curfew is in effect. These are just two examples, the tip of the iceberg so to speak, of how my unjustified parole conditions are not only embittering our life now but are also making it impossible for me to adequately take care of my wife now.
What can Prime Minister Netanyahu do to help?
I have appealed to him privately and also in my Channel 12 appearance. I have asked him to please call President Trump and appeal to him to terminate my parole. I’ve already served four years as a model parolee, and the urgency of the situation requires compassion and humane consideration.
What would termination of your parole do?
It would lift all of the parole restrictions. I could then take care of my wife at this critical time in a responsible and spontaneous manner.
It would also make it possible for Esther and me to go home to Israel as soon as she is well enough to travel again, after her chemo and her surgery.
Her final recovery would be in the Land, which has its own blessings and healings to offer.
Just looking forward to going home at the end of her treatment ordeal would vastly improve her morale at this time, and mine too. Our wonderful oncologist, the wise and deeply caring Dr. Yashar Hirshaut, tells us that Esther’s morale is critical to her complete recovery.
Do you believe that the Prime Minister will intervene with President Trump?
B’ezrat Hashem, he has promised to do so. B’zechut all of the tefillot and techinot of Klal Yisrael, may Hashem crown the Prime Minister’s efforts with success!
Amen v’amen! Hatzlachah rabbah and a refuah sheleimah!