Asked by the Tazpit Press Service to share a memory that sums up the personality of his late wife Esther, Jonathan Pollard thinks back to a cold winter day in Butner, North Carolina, where he was doing time in a federal penitentiary.
“There was a snowstorm, a very bad snowstorm and they stopped all visiting because of the weather,” Pollard said.
“She walked about 10 km in the snow to come and see me for a visit. She was wet from her stomach down and the captain of the prison came to me and said, ‘My own wife would kill me if I turned her away,’” Pollard recalled. “We had a very pleasant visit. There was nobody in the visiting room except for the guard and ourselves.”
Continuing on, Pollard said, “Towards the end of the visit, I was getting concerned because the sun was going down and she would have to walk 10 km back in the snow, in the dark.” Happily, another officer walked in, explained that he had a four-wheel drive jeep, and offered to take Esther back to her hotel as he took other prison officers to their homes.
“I thought for a second when he made the offer that even in Gehinnom [Hell], there can be decency. But she was very prepared and willing to walk all the way back 10 km in the snow, in the dark, in the cold just so she could see me. That’s who she was,” Pollard said.
Esther Pollard died of cancer on Jan. 31, 2022. Monday marked the first anniversary of her death on the Hebrew calendar.
Next to HaKodesh Baruch Hu [God], Esther deserves most of the credit for securing my release,” Pollard told TPS.
“She was the one who kept my case alive for decades, and she was the one who ultimately sacrificed her health to secure my release. There were many people who helped her and who were part of the campaign, both here in Israel and in the United States. But the credit for my freedom and repatriation goes to her,” he said.
Pollard spent 30 years in prison for providing top-secret classified information to Israel. He married Esther Zeitz, who had become his most active supporter for freedom in 1993. Esther later became ill with cancer but, holding out hope for future children, she initially avoided chemotherapy treatment that would have harmed her chances of becoming pregnant.
Pollard was finally paroled in 2015, but legal restrictions required him to remain in New York City. In 2020, Pollard’s parole expired and the Justice Department did not push to extend his restrictions, enabling the Pollards to move to Israel. They only had one year in Israel together when the cancer returned. Two weeks before she died, Esther tested positive for COVID-19.
Pollard married Rivka Abrahams-Donin, a widowed mother of seven children in October. They live in Jerusalem now. He told TPS that before Esther died, she encouraged him to marry Rivka, a friend of hers.
“I was shocked because when I asked her, ‘Why are you suggesting this?,’ she looked at me and she said ‘I’m not going to make it.’ That was the first time I realized I was going to lose Esther. It came as more of a shock than her encouragement to marry Rivka,” Pollard told TPS.
“Esther told me point blank that she wanted me to marry her, because she wanted me to be happy. And she picked well. Rivka is a wonderful person. As was with Esther, she now is my morah [teacher],” Pollard said.
“It allowed me to move on with my life without any feelings of guilt,” he explained.
For Pollard, now 68, moving on means building an educational center in Tel Aviv dedicated to Esther’s memory.
“She was a teacher, and she believed that it was important to teach children as young as possible who and what they are — that they’re Jews,” Pollard explained.
“Esther felt that the next big struggle — or the ultimate struggle in Israel — would be over the identity of the state. To that end, she felt that teaching children who they are and why they’re here and what our mission in the land is would be critical for our success in creating and maintaining a Jewish state going forward.”