Everyone knows the story. Moshiach finally arrives and goes from shul to shul telling the Jews it’s time to go home to Eretz Yisrael. But wherever Moshiach goes he is rejected because of his dress, his yarmulke, his hat or his accent. Eventually, in frustration, he simply leaves.
Disunity has long been a problem for the Jewish nation. Rarely have we spoken as one, even during periods of great problems and challenges.
This past year, though, has been witness to an incredible phenomenon. Jews of all stripes joined together to pray, write letters, sign petitions and call the White House in support of clemency for Jonathan Pollard. Knowing that the National Council of Young Israel was at the forefront of efforts to obtain Pollard’s release, people would ask me, wherever I went, for updates and told me what they were doing to help.
Chassidim, misnagdim, yeshivish, Modern Orthodox, regular Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, unaffiliated – every type of Jew joined together.
There have been many heroes in this effort. First and foremost is Pollard himself. Yes, he committed a crime for which he has admitted guilt and expressed remorse. But he has served his time and has been punished sufficiently. And to have endured 24 years – many of them in solitary confinement – in federal prisons while remaining optimistic and forward looking is nothing less than heroic. He is a man of strong faith who to the best of his ability is shomer Shabbos and maintains a kosher diet.
Of course his wife, Esther, devotes her entire being on behalf of her husband. Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, has dedicated thousands, if not tens of thousands, of hours to this cause, on a professional as well as a personal level. Pollard’s attorneys, Elliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, gave, pro bono, their all on his behalf. To them also, the cause has become personal.
Current and past chief rabbis of Israel; Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elayashuv and Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman; chassidic rebbes; members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America; and hundreds, if not thousands, of rabbinic and lay leaders – all gave Pollard their unqualified support. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations supported his release, as did almost every Jewish organization, from right to left.
Several individuals deserve special recognition, among them Natan Sharansky, one of our great Jewish heroes, who personally lobbied President Bush and others for Pollard’s release. Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York showed courage and integrity as he turned over every stone on behalf of Pollard. (When Pollard was finally given a hearing in Federal Court a few years back, it was astounding to hear attorneys describe how whenever they sought a document from the government and were refused on grounds of national security, Weiner managed to obtain it for them.)
There are others who have spoken out as Americans against what they believe to be a travesty of justice. The Hon. Stephen Williams, the Federal appellate judge who dissented in the original appellate case involving Pollard’s sentence, called the District Court’s rejection of Pollard’s plea a “flagrant violation of the [plea] agreement’s spirit.”
A former Federal district court judge, the Hon. George N. Leighton, submitted a Declaration in support of Pollard to the appellate court in which he described the failures of the justice and judicial system in the case and called for Pollard to receive an evidentiary hearing.
It took great courage for former CIA director James Woolsey to openly support Pollard’s release on humanitarian grounds and state clearly that Pollard did not pose a present national security risk to the United States.
There are those who claim Pollard received a just sentence because he was a spy. This is just plain false. In a plea bargain supported by the Justice Department, Pollard pleaded guilty to one count of “passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States.”
Pollard is not the only person to have passed classified information to an ally. Others have done so for South Africa, Great Britain, the Philippines and South Korea. The longest sentence received was 14 years meted out to Steven Lalas, who disclosed the names of CIA agents, placing them in jeopardy. The U.S. honored Lalas’s plea agreement despite the fact that he violated the agreement several times.