Before dawn, at 5 o’clock in the morning, Jonathan Pollard landed in Israel and a video of the event was immediately broadcast throughout the world. What was so special and emotional about this moment?
Pollard descended from the plane and signaled to the Prime Minister that, with all due respect, his greeting must wait. Before anything else, Pollard had to kiss the ground of the Land of Israel. Beyond the political story, beyond the interests of Netanyahu and Trump, this is a story of a Jew returning home.
But wait, returning home? Pollard had never been here before, yet this is what his story is all about. Elie Wiesel once said that a Jew does not need to have ever been in the Land of Israel to call it home. In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, Rashi writes about Rachel Imeinu, who has been waiting until now for all of her children to return — for all the millions of Pollards who are still scattered throughout the world to return to the Land of Israel in order for God’s promise to be fulfilled: “And the children will return to their own border.”
Pollard did something else during his first moments in Israel, before he kissed the ground: he took off his mask. In the end, after 35 years of waiting, he arrives here at the height of a deadly pandemic. Who would have believed that his arrival here would be like that, without a single firm embrace from anyone? Instead of going immediately to the Western Wall to pray in a gathering of thousands, he went immediately into isolation. Perhaps this is for the best, at least from the standpoint of our relationship with the United States.
We could focus on the question of why he spied (There is no accusation against him here. From the moment he signed an agreement with Israel to do what he did, Israel was responsible for his well-being.) We could speak about the damage that was done to the relationship between us and the United States, our dear friend (In any case, it is reasonable to assume that no more Pollards will be activated any time soon). Bottom line: the man who became a symbol during the 35 years that we prayed for him (“Yehonatan ben Malka”) and to whom numerous teenagers, primarily in the religious Zionist camp, dedicated many of their efforts for years, a man who sacrificed and paid a heavy price, and was not able as a prisoner to father children with his wife, has become free.
And finally, we heard the words of Pollard himself: “This is a wonderful country,” said the man without complaint; the man who was abandoned outside our embassy, who was forgotten. “We hope to become productive citizens,” he said, reminding us that this is not the end of the Pollard affair as some newspaper headlines proclaimed, but a new beginning. Pollard is finally beginning the life that he always wanted to live. “It is a country with a tremendous future, it is the future of the Jewish people,” he continued. We are accustomed to hearing important political speeches broadcast at 8 o’clock in the evening, sometimes two of them simultaneously, but it appears that the most important speech in recent memory was delivered at 5 o’clock in the morning at Ben Gurion Airport. It was a simple speech that reminded us that at this time of ugly political division and conflict we all share the same story.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin