On the 25th day of Kislev we will celebrate Chanukah. On the 4th day of Kislev Jonathan Pollard celebrated the start of his 25th year in prison.
One year ago a sense of unity of purpose and action rippled through the Jewish community. Each day, thousands of American Jews called the White House comment line asking President George W. Bush to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard.
The president didn’t grant clemency. But for the first time the White House actually considered Pollard’s clemency application.
I have no idea how many calls the White House actually received last year, but the volume of calls definitely made an impact. People told me that at first they received quizzical responses from the White House receptionists. Eventually, the receptionists almost intuitively asked callers if they were calling about Jonathan Pollard.
During the telephone campaign strangers stopped me on the street to ask if I had any news. One day as I walked out of the courthouse in downtown Brooklyn, someone sitting on a park bench down the block somehow recognized me and yelled out, “What’s going on with Pollard?”
While the National Council of Young Israel played a critical role in the campaign, I could not believe how many people who were not Young Israel members stopped me on the street for updates.
When President Bush left office without granting clemency, there was a palpable sense of disappointment. The wind left our sails, and the balloon burst. For the first time, people told me they felt like we were fighting a lost cause.
In the months that followed, even those close to the Pollards felt overwhelmed. We then became preoccupied with Ponzi schemes, the threat of a nuclear Iran, tension between the U.S. and Israel, the Goldstone report and even health-care reform,
To make matters worse, Bernie Maddoff was sentenced to the Butner Federal Correctional Facility where Pollard is also incarcerated. Night after night reporters made it appear that Maddoff was sentenced to a middle-security country-club prison.
Apparently, none of those reporters belong to a country club. I’ve met Pollard at the prison’s visitors area and in a conference room on the premises. Butner is closer to hell on earth than to a country club.
Thousands of years ago, a small group of Jews dedicated to the Torah took on the forces of the mighty Syrian-Greek Empire and won. A few Jews beat the odds and proved the naysayers wrong.
If that were not miracle enough, a small drop of oil lasted eight days, indicating the renewal of the Torah and our nation. Chanukah is only one of many times throughout history when the tenacity, inner strength and combined prayers of the Jews conquered overwhelming odds.
This past January, Barack Obama became the first African-American president of the United States. President Obama is a former law professor. He supports the underdog, both in national and international affairs. Recent events indicate that he thinks for himself and is not afraid to disagree with his top advisers.
Time and again Hashem has chosen the correct time and the right mechanism through which to save the Jews. He only requires that we go the extra mile, take some risks and place our ultimate faith in Him. If we failed with President Bush, why give up on President Obama, without a fight?
At a time when we all feel vulnerable, a return to achdus, tefillos and phone calls on behalf of Pollard couldn’t hurt. Let’s move the clock back just one year. Let’s start calling the White House and asking President Obama to do justice and grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard.
The phone number for the White House comment line is 202-456-1111.
As we look forward to the 25th day of Kislev, we should rededicate ourselves and hope that after 24 years Jonathan Pollard will finally enjoy the light of the menorah as a free man.