Every year at our Passover seder, we lean on pillows and celebrate our freedom.
But I will be thinking of Jonathan Pollard, who doesn’t have his freedom. This year will be his 26th year in captivity. He is in prison in North Carolina, where he won’t be able to celebrate much of a Passover.
Pollard’s Passover foods were stolen by other inmates and he was mocked for requesting kosher foods, he said in a letter he wrote to an Israeli newspaper several years ago. The week of Passover for him is pretty much like all other days of the year: He spends the day working, washing windows and cleaning toilets.
His jail cell in North Carolina is heated during the hot spring and summer weather so his sealed cell becomes a pressure cooker. He suffers from constant hunger. Because of his terrible prison conditions, he suffers from many medical conditions, including a compromised immune system, high blood pressure, and Type II Diabetes.
How can we enjoy our freedom when our brother is not free? He is in captivity separated from his family. He is completely alone. Israel betrayed him and many Jews have forgotten him.
Several months ago, I became interested in the Pollard case and wanted to do something to help fight what I believe is an injustice. I wrote letters to senators, congressmen, the vice president, and the president. Some of them wrote me back and said they couldn’t do much to help. Others didn’t write back at all.
I also sent letters to Pollard because I heard they give him strength. I kept hoping he would write me back but he didn’t. I wrote him to let him know I was disappointed that he wasn’t writing me letters. Can you believe he felt so badly about this that he had his wife, Esther, track down my mother by e-mail to let us know that he was very sorry that he couldn’t respond but that he really appreciated my letters? (I then found out that the rules prevent him from writing back.) What amazed me was that while this man is suffering so much in prison, he would even care about the feelings of some 12-year-old kid.
The more I learned about Pollard’s story, the more I realized this is a case that deserves our attention. Pollard is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying on an American ally. The sentence he received was disproportionate, considering the punishment given to those who spied for enemy countries.
In contrast, Mohammad Reza Alavi, who stole nuclear software from the American nuclear plant where he worked and gave it to Iran, received only 15 months in prison for the crime.
And Thomas Dolce was sentenced to 10 years for passing classified documents to the South African regime from 1979 to 1983.
And the list goes on.
I believe there is only one reason why Pollard received such a harsh sentence: because he’s a Jew.
When Pollard was sentenced, not enough people stood up for him. Israel turned her back on him. So did much of the Jewish community. There is a mitzvah of pidyon shivuyim, to free those in captivity. We have to do more to help.
Pollard admitted he committed a crime by passing information to Israel and acknowledged he deserves punishment. But 26 years in prison is more than anyone else has served for the same offense.
By the way, many others believe Pollard’s sentence should be commuted and have said so publicly. They are people like Elie Wiesel, Sen. Charles Schumer, Alan Dershowitz, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, former Vice President Dan Quayle and Sen. John McCain.
But that’s not enough. Every one of us should do what we can to free our brother. The more we care, the less time Pollard will sit in jail. So let’s write letters and hold rallies and do what we can. This week, my school held an event in which middle-school students discussed the Pollard case with political leaders. Maybe other schools can do the same.
In just a few nights, we will be reclining at our seder with our families as we remember our exodus from Egypt. Let’s set an extra setting at our tables to remember a man who isn’t free. If we work together, maybe Pollard can have his exodus too. And then he too can recline as a free man.