The Time is Now

by Rabbi Pesach Lerner

For me, the story began about 17 years ago. I sincerely hope and pray that it ends soon.

I joined the National Council of Young Israel’s (NCYI) professional staff in October 1991. One of the first things I began doing was visiting the many Young Israel branches. During the first few years of my employment at NCYI, I visited almost all of the more than 150 Young Israel branches throughout the United States and Canada.

During that time, I heard about an event which was scheduled to take place at the Young Israel of Manhattan in the Lower East Side of New York City, which was to focus on sharing information and raising awareness about Jonathan Pollard. I thought that attending the event would be a great way to meet the members of the shul and to learn something about Jonathan Pollard, a name that I recognized but did not really know much about. I attended the event, where not only did I meet members of the shul, but I also heard a startling story about Jonathan Pollard, who spied for Israel and received a life sentence. The Pollard story bothered me, as I had too many questions and not enough answers. I started researching the Pollard story, asking questions, and inquiring into the activities of the Jewish community on his behalf.

When I reported my findings to the Executive Board of the National Council of Young Israel, they encouraged me to continue my research and to keep them informed. Young Israel has always prided itself on doing what was right, not necessarily what was politically popular. I continued my research, met with Jonathan Pollard in prison soon thereafter, and NCYI and the Pollard cause have been intertwined ever since.

My involvement in the Pollard case has taken me to the halls of the Knesset, to the offices of the Israel Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, and to the waiting rooms and offices of current and former Israeli government ministers and officials. I have met with current and former members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives and other U.S. government officials. I have sought advice and direction from Torah sages throughout Israel and the United States. I have visited numerous leaders of both Jewish and non-Jewish national organizations.

I have met countless caring and concerned individuals from countries and cities throughout the world, in person, over the telephone, and via e-mail. I have been interviewed about the Pollard case for newspapers, magazines, television and radio. I have addressed synagogue and school groups, and spoken at numerous rallies.

My understanding of the Pollard case has deepened over the years, and my commitment to help a fellow Jew has only intensified. My personal relationship with Jonathan, to whom I have written, spoken to, and visited so many times, has been deeply enhanced.

Jonathan committed a crime, and he admits to that. He has expressed remorse for his activities, in writing and personally, to many American and Israeli government officials. Jonathan understands and accepts that he was to be punished for his crime. But as he begins his 24th year in the American federal correctional system, the time is overdue for Jonathan Pollard to go home, to Israel, to his family.

After completing 23 long and hard years in prison, it is time for our leaders to view this case with a sense of compassion and to make an honest and fair request to free Jonathan Pollard, at least, on humanitarian grounds. There are so many who agree that Jonathan’s 23 years in prison are more than enough. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, agrees. Senator Charles Schumer and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York agree. Former Senator Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, who was Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee when Pollard was arrested, agrees. Members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives agree. Vice President-Elect Joe Biden agrees. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations agrees. The Israeli Knesset and all living past and present Chief Rabbis of Israel agree. Elie Wiesel and Natan Sharansky, agree. Hundreds of Jewish and non-Jewish national organizations agree. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Jews (and non-Jews) in the USA and in Israel agree.

Now is the time for us to do all that we can to help ensure that President Bush also agrees that Jonathan Pollard’s 23 years in prison are more than enough.

The National Council of Young Israel is working hard to obtain clemency for Jonathan Pollard, as are many other organizations and numerous individuals. We are requesting that President Bush release Jonathan for time already served – 23 years – which is considerably longer than many others who have been convicted of spying for not just allied nations, but enemy nations as well. We encourage everyone to call, write or fax the White House daily. We urge you to ask President Bush to let Jonathan Pollard go.

This past week, I accompanied Rabbi Yonah Metzger, Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Shlomo Mostofsky, the President of the National Council of Young Israel, to Butner, North Carolina, to visit Jonathan in prison. We spent several intense hours together. We discussed his case, the situation in Israel, and the upcoming holiday of Chanukah. We experienced Jonathan’s unbelievable Emunah, his faith in G-d, and his daily sacrifices to keep kosher and do Mitzvos. We experienced his love for the Jewish people and for the land of Israel. We shared in his hope that he be reunited soon with his wife Esther in Jerusalem.

There are only a few weeks before the President completes his term in office. During these next few weeks, the White House will be considering the numerous requests for pardons and clemencies that they have received. Please call the White House daily at 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm EST, and ask the President to commute Jonathan Pollard’s prison sentence. Please add a daily prayer for Yehonatan ben Malka, Jonathan the son of Malka. It is time for Jonathan to go free, to go to Israel, to live the life still before him.

My involvement began 17 years ago, and my hope is that this chapter will soon come to a close. I pray that my next visit to Jonathan will take place in Jerusalem very soon.

(For additional information about the Pollard case, please visit . For more information about the current grass roots campaign, please visit .)

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, D.Adm. is the Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel.

This article was also published in HaModia.

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13 Responses

  1. Charlie Hall says:

    I think Rabbi Lerner is misrepresenting Vice President-elect Biden’s position.

    What Sen. Biden appears to be saying is that there is a rationale for leniency. He did not say whether or not he agrees.

  2. Ori says:

    I’d be interested to read the responses of Jews serving the US in the military and intelligence communities.

    The US did overreact in the case of Pollard, but there’s a reason for it – betrayal is more offensive than the same action committed by a known enemy. We Jews are treated by the US as trustworthy, and not suspected of having giving our loyalty ultimately to another government. This distinction between religious and political loyalty is part of the ideology that makes the US work, (and incidentally makes it such a good place for members of minority religions, such as Jews). By revealing US secrets to Israel, Pollard violated this.

    Jonathan Pollard switched his loyalty from the US to Israel. Once that happened, he should have resigned his job and immigrated to Israel. Instead he pretended to still be loyal to the US, was trusted with classified information based on that loyalty, and betrayed that trust.

    We are very well respected in the US, and it would take a large number of Pollards to destroy that. But make no mistake – if enough Pollards were to betray the US, Jews would be considered a security risk.

  3. dovid says:

    Ori, everything you wrote is true. But the US is a country with an organized, sophisticated legal system in place. Much of the American jurisprudence rests of precedents. The claim is that everyone is equal in an American court of justice. So why is Pollard treated differently? That’s the question. No one is debating that he had to be punished. But why did he get “life” when everyone else got 2-5 yrs. for the same crime? Pollard’s case is a miscarriage of American justice. Pollard’s betrayal by the Israeli establishment for the past 23 yrs. while it is true and disheartening, is only a sideshow to the miscarriage of justice perpetrated on American soil. The Israeli betrayal reflects widespread corruption and fear of assuming responsibility in the Israeli hierarchy for a botched up mission which is not unique to this case.

  4. Charlie Hall says:


    Is Pollard really being treated differently? Robert Hanssen, Aldrich Ames, and John Walker are all serving life sentences — Walker has been in prison longer than Pollard. And the Rosenbergs got the death penalty. All for violations of the same espionage law — and the Rosenbergs were also spying for an ally.

    The miscarriage of justice is that the fact that Pollard’s attorney forgot to file a form on time has permanently prevented him from appealing his sentence, but in this Pollard is being treated no differently from other convicts whose attorneys have made similar mistakes. Our courts have been stacked with Law And Order judges who are completely uninterested in fairness for people who have been convicted of crimes. Hopefully President-elect Obama in his appointments will help to being us back to some balance.

  5. Leah says:

    I also heard early on that Casper Weinberger spoke with then President Reagan about all that he (Weinberger) would say and be protected by the Reagan administration in the Pollard case if any snags would come up in the court. It was decided then by Weinberger behind closed doors that Pollard would “never leave prison”. If all of this is true it makes me very frustrated to continuously phone the White House asking for Pollard to be released. I both think and feel that we can rise above this and ask Hashem to release Jonathan Pollard. This also takes sincere work and effort on both the level of emunah as well as speaking up for his defense in the secular areas-the courts and the media and the like.

  6. dovid says:

    “Is Pollard really being treated differently? Robert Hanssen, Aldrich Ames, and John Walker are all serving life sentences”

    “Rosenbergs were also spying for an ally.”

    I don’t know what to make out of your comment. It reflects either utter ignorance or a sinister mind. Jonathan Pollard was indicted on one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States. Robert Hanssen, Aldrich Ames, and John Walker all spied for the Soviet Union, an enemy of the US, hostile to us throughout its history on ideological basis, as well as a competing world power. The US and the USSR were allies of convenience during WWII in order to defeat their common enemies, Germany and Japan. The rivalry between the US and USSR resurfaced in its full force even before V-Day. The Rosenbergs spied for the Soviet Union during the peak of “cold war”. They passed top-secret information to United States’s no. 1 enemy. To equate Jonathan Pollard’s act with those of any of the four characters is not only false, but malicious to the utmost.

  7. Ori says:

    Dovid: . Much of the American jurisprudence rests of precedents. The claim is that everyone is equal in an American court of justice.

    Ori: The Web site for the sentencing commission ( is unfortunately down, but I’m pretty sure motive and deterrence play a role in sentencing. People who commit crimes out of greed are probably more scared of prison than those who commit them out of ideology. Therefore, you need less time in prison to deter them. Other than Communism, I can’t think of other ideologies that caused people to spy on the US – and as you said, Communism isn’t comparable either since it was spying for an enemy.

  8. dovid says:

    “People who commit crimes out of greed”

    Per the FBI, Pollard acted for ideological reasons only, not for profit.

    “motive and deterrence play a role in sentencing.”

    You may be right. I read that Pollard’s sentence has less to do with what Pollard did, but it was meant to serve as a warning to American Jews who may contemplate spying for Israel. But if this were true, the deterrence factor should have been achieved by now with the time that Pollard already spent in jail.

  9. Ori says:

    Dovid, a large part of my point was that Pollard acted out of ideological reasons. That is a reason for a tougher sentence, since ideological criminals are harder to deter.

    The 23 years Pollard spent in jail may be enough to scare the next would-be Pollard into obeying the law, in which case the US can afford to pardon him. Or maybe not – if he goes to Israel, he will be received by by some as a hero, which is precisely the opposite of what the US needs.

    Arguably the US should throw Pollard in to sweeten the deal the next time it demands something the Israeli government doesn’t want to give.

  10. dovid says:

    “the US should throw Pollard in to sweeten the deal the next time it demands something the Israeli government doesn’t want to give.”

    Pollard has been traded over several times, with the Americans never delivering the “goods”. The last time it was at the “Wye” negotiations. Israel paid a political price for Pollard’s freedom, but left empty handed because Clinton reneged on his promise. These Clintons, the he and the she, that imbecile Jews keep voting for and praising them for their pro-Israel credentials.

  11. dovid says:

    “if he goes to Israel, he will be received by by some as a hero”

    By many. But there are ohers (his former handlers) who may decide to assassinate him.

  12. Ori says:

    Dovid: But there are ohers (his former handlers) who may decide to assassinate him.

    Ori: For which the CIA will be blamed. Yet another reason for the US not to pardon Pollard.

  13. dovid says:

    “For which the CIA will be blamed.”

    The blame won’t stick. CIA has nothing to fear from Pollard walking free. The Israeli establishment and Pollard’s handlers have a lot to fear when Pollard has the opportunity to spills the beans.

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