1. A few minutes after the start of the memorial evening for Esther Pollard, held, as is the custom, thirty days after her passing (called the Shloshim) someone approached me and asked quietly if, since I was the M.C., I have any idea at what time Jonathan Pollard himself would speak. I told him that according to the schedule Pollard is slated to be the closing speaker, in about one and a half hours. Thanks he said, with an apologetic smile, "I asked, but not for myself. I have no problem listening until then, but my chidren…" and he pointed to two sweet primary school-aged children sitting nearby. "I brought them here especially to hear Pollard speak and I hope they do not fall asleep before he speaks."
I did some quick calculating: Pollard was released from prison in the summer of 2015, meaning it will soon be seven years since he was freed. That means that these children did not grow up during the period of the great battles for Pollard's freedom. They did not take part in demonstrations, did not hand out stickers, are unfamiliar with the words "Yonatan ben Malka." They were born, that is, raised, in a totally different reality, in which Pollard was out of prison (although under harsh US parole limitations ). And still, their father felt it was important to bring them to Jerusalem to the Yeshurun Synagogue at a late hour in order to hear Pollard speak. He wanted them to have an exciting experience, but more than that, he wanted them to see a real hero. Impressive.
2. Who are our childhood heroes? Who are our children's childhood heroes? Who would we choose, if we could, to be their heroes? These questions deserve a thoughtful discussion. These questions are life-determining. But let's leave the kids for a while to tell you that it is also important for you to take the trouble to see Pollard in person. First of all, it is an emotional experience to meet a Jew for whose freedom we prayed for 30 years, and who was mercifully released, thank G-d, and lives among us in Jerusalem. He is a walking "Mi Sheberach." I must admit: every time I went on stage to announce the next speaker to eulogize Esther Pollard z"l and mourn her passing, I felt happy, despite the great pain over her death. I realized that I was at a memorial evening for a dear woman who left us too soon. Of course, I am well aware of the tragedy that befell Jonathan Pollard, but my reaction was not something I could control. Each time I saw him sitting there in the front row opposite the Bimah, I was excited all over again. He has returned. He is here. G-d had pity upon him and took him from out of darkness to the world of light.
It might be enough to be moved by his release from prison, but meeting Pollard goes beyond that. His personality radiates. What does it radiate? Well, for the answer to that question you will have to see him yourself. When you are opposite him, you feel something. Greatness of spirit, gratitude, humility, faith and other illuminating attributes that I find it hard to define. Wait – I have a word for it all: exaltedness. There is something exalted about him.
3. It is really a source of wonder. A person like Pollard, who went through what he experienced, after 30 years in solitary confinement under such difficult conditions, and then the harsh patrol restrictions once he was finally released, should be bitter, angry sad, burnt out. I would have totally understood if that was the Pollard who got off the plane. The fact that he is normal and functioning is not to be taken for granted.
But what to do – Pollard is not only normal, he is much more than that.
His sense of humor is also not half bad. And that is not a trivial thing. I was told that at an event that took place several days earlier – a fundraising evening for the moving initiative Pollard is spearheading, establishing an "Esther's Children Center," a complex of pre-school facilities that will provide Jewish education to hundreds of children each year in Tel Aviv in memory of this woman who had no children of her own thanks to the vengeful American judicial system – Pollard's mobile phone began to ring as he was about to speak. He placed the phone on the lectern and said with a smile: "I did not imagine that after I was finally released from prison, this tiny thing would begin to control my life." And before that, when he arrived, he said: "Wow! It is a real miracle that I am here. A revealed mirace." The guests were certain he was referring to his release from prison after so many years, but he said: "It's a miracle that I found parking in this part of Tel Aviv!"
4. At the memorial evening in Jerusalem, the speakers all mentioned Esther Pollard's dedication, the sacrifices made by this woman who could have simply remained Esther Zeits, a teacher in the Canadian school system, but could not stand by without doing something and dedicated her entire life to the struggle to free Pollard. And he, who calls her "My spiritual mentor" retold the awesome story of his parting from her: "In her last moments, Esther told me: 'My soul came down to this world with two missions. The first was to being you home. The second was to bring you home as a Jew and not a goy. And the first mission was the easier one…Thank G-d, it took me thirty years, but I have fulfilled my missions,' and then she shut her eyes and died."
One of the high points of the evening was when the Kippalive accapella group sang the verse from the Book of Jeremiah that Jonathan chose for Esther's tombstone: "I remember the loving kindness of your youth, the love you had as a bride, your walking after me through unsown deserts..."
5. And then the next speaker came on stage It was Rabbi Yehuda ben Yishai. While we are on the subject of wondrous and illuminating personalities, here is another figure you should meet, or at least watch when he lectures on the Arutz Meir channel. I remember that after an interview with him during the shiva for his daughter and son-in-law Rav Udi and Ruti Fogel and their children Hy"d, was broadcast, that the television critic at the Maariv newspaper asked in surprise: Why have we never seen a person like him on television until now? Where was he? The painful anwer is that Rabbi Ben Yishai was always right here, or at least since his aliya from France. Except that before the horrific massacre in Itamar, the media, except for the religious news outlets, was not exactly interested in people like him.
What is the connection between Rabbi Ben Yishai and Esther Pollard? Why was he chosen to eulogize her at the Shloshim Memorial? The answer is perhaps the most moving eulogy of all for her, and the most emotional words about her husband, may G-d grant him long life.
"In the presence of my dear brother Jonathan," he began, "The truth is that I am moved because I stood in this spot in the Yeshurun Synagogue 11 years ago at our Shloshim Memorial. It was in the month of Adar and I remember Esther z"l coming to our house for a condolence visit. She brought three adorable winter jackets with her. This was the first time I had ever seen her, and she said: I am Esther, and I am representing Jonathan."
"We looked at her in shock. Representing Jonathan? Jonathan is in prison in the USA. And she said: We talked on the phone and Jonathan asked that I come to your home during the shiva and bring toys for the children, for Tamar, Roi and Yishai – I am his messenger. It is really he. We accepted the gifts and I can say that this was the most emotional experience, to see a man who is behind bars and so far away, but feels connected to us and identifies with us, encouraging us during these so very difficult days in which we cried for a daughter, a son in law and three children.
"When the Prime Minster came to console us, Tamar immediately said to him: 'What are you doing to have Pollard freed from prison?' He was surprised, but he said to her, 'We are trying our best'" Thank G-d, those efforts succeeded. Thank G-d."
6. But the story of the wondrous connection that formed beween the Jewish prisoner in his solitary cell in North Carolina and the Fogel and Ben Yishai families sitting shiva in Jerusalem did not end there.
"We decided to return the visit," Rav Ben Yishai said. "And I want to talk about the great hashgacha (Divine Providence), with the help of Rabbi Pesach Lerner who is here tonight, and another very special person who has since passed away and I must mention his name here – Rabbi Shlomo Zakheim, zt"l. He called us and said: 'You are coming. We will arrange everything.' We wen to Jonathan. There were endless miracles. We saw how G-d accompanies us when 12 year-old Tamar also received authorization to visit, something that had never occurred in American history. No one stopped us."
"We sat and talked with Jonathan, he taught us the Book of Joshua, the book about entering the Land. I said to him: We came to perform three mitzvahs today. The first is to redeem a captive. To encourage and strengthen our brother who sacrificed himself to save his people and land. The second mitzvah is to visit the sick. Jonathan did not feel well during that period and we were so excited to be able to come and hug him. And the third mitzvah? He was sitting shiva for his father. We came precisely during that week, after they did not allow him to attend his own father's funeral! And we, after Esther visited us during our shiva, came to visit exactly when Jonathan sat shiva for his father. How the Creator arranges things…"
"That is when we realized that there is no distance between us," Rav Yehuda Ben Yishai ended. "We understood how Jews are connected and close and tied through ties of blood, on a level higher than any wall, stronger than any obstacle. This is what it was. We visited Jonathan for two hours, and at our side was someone from the prison who listened to every word so that Jonathan would not tell us any secrets…but he did tell us the most important secret: that he loves our people and Eretz Yisrael and feels ties to them."
"And Am Yisrael brought him here. I stand before you exactly 11 years later, next week is the memorial for our children, and I want to tell Jonathan: You comforted us, you gave us strength. And I am so happy we were able to reach you. Together we will continue on this path. You have so much you can give our people, Am Yisrael. With the help of G-d, you will succeed in accomplishing this, also representing Esther, who is now prayng for us above. She is surely praying for the welfare of the people and land you both loved. Jonathan, we are brothers."
I do hope that those two sweet children were awake…
Yedidya Meiris a popular journalist, lecturer, moderator,and media host, who is married to Sivan and lives in Jerusalem. He has a weekly column in BeSheva.
This article was translated by Rochel Sylvetsky from the Hebrew weekly BeSheva. For information about events in which Jonathan Pollard is a participant and for more information about the pre-school project, write firstname.lastname@example.org