Death of a queen: Remembering Esther Pollard

TRIBUTE: She will inspire generations to come with the undying love and devotion she demonstrated to Jonathan, to the Land of Israel and to the Jewish people.

 ESTHER POLLARD visits Jerusalem in 2013. (photo credit: FLASH90)
ESTHER POLLARD visits Jerusalem in 2013.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

With a kind of cosmic kismet, Esther Pollard died this past Monday on the eve of the new month of Adar, a month that is always associated with Purim, the holiday of Queen Esther.

Always dressed impeccably – with a stylish head-covering that almost resembled a crown – with a proud bearing and definitive sense of purpose, Esther Pollard was indeed a regal figure. When you were around her, you immediately felt that you were in the presence of royalty; there was an aura of nobility that emanated from her, commanding your respect.

For almost three decades, Esther was completely, selflessly, passionately committed to one mission in life: seeing justice done for her husband, Jonathan.

Long before virtually the entire world came around to recognizing the cruel and unusual punishment meted out to Jonathan – who served longer for his actions than anyone else in a similar situation in American history – Esther was pressing his case across the globe, in every kind of venue, to anyone who would listen. She would speak to school groups, to rabbis, to journalists, to Knesset members and United States senators.

From the moment she married Jonathan, in North Carolina’s Butner prison in 1994, she assumed leadership of the movement to help Jonathan be free.

 Jonathan Pollard attends the funeral of his wife Esther in Jerusalem. Esther died of COVID complications at the age of 68, January 31, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Jonathan Pollard attends the funeral of his wife Esther in Jerusalem. Esther died of COVID complications at the age of 68, January 31, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

It was no easy task. The Jewish world, frightened to the core by the specter of “dual loyalism,” was incredibly slow to acknowledge the prejudicial way in which Jonathan was treated. Esther was often maligned for her bold presentation of Jonathan’s case, but she was indefatigable and would not be silenced. She even went on a hunger strike in 1996, in reaction to the indifference of both the Israeli and American Jewish establishments and their aversion to the issue.

Even when her own health declined – Esther battled breast cancer and other secondary ailments – she would neither relax nor relent.

A woman of deep faith and a firm believer in Divine providence, she was that spiritual anchor that buoyed Jonathan’s spirits in the darkest of times and provided him with a lifeline of hope that allowed him to survive the near-torture conditions of his incarceration.

I WAS privileged to know Jonathan’s late parents, Dr. Morris and Molly Pollard. I had the honor of hosting them in my synagogue in Dallas in 1989 and providing Dr. Pollard – a distinguished professor at Notre Dame University – with a public platform for outlining the injustice done to Jonathan, beginning with Judge Aubry Robinson Jr.’s rejection of the plea agreement that had been agreed upon by both the defense and the prosecution – a decision that one federal judge called “a fundamental miscarriage of justice.”

For allowing Dr. Pollard a forum to speak, I was castigated by members of the Jewish community and even received death threats. It was a hint of what was to come: a shunning of this man whose crime had been aiding a friendly ally.

I think what shocked me most, more than American Jewry’s ambivalence, was the frightening realization that maybe, just maybe, Jews were not sufficiently secure in their citizenship to display an unabashed support for one of their own.

ESTHER BECAME a symbol of courage and heroism for many of us. She would not give in and she would not give up.

As she stayed strong, so did Jonathan. He fought the effort to break his will in prison; she fought to break through the wall of silence that had enveloped all too many normally outspoken Jewish leaders. They fed off each other’s determination to see the day when they would be free to together walk the length and breadth of their beloved Israel, and forge a new life in the land they loved.

While that great day did indeed finally arrive in December 2020, they would have only a bit more than a year to see their dream fulfilled.

The Purim story paints an idyllic picture of a beautiful queen who vanquishes a cruel enemy and saves her people from disaster.

But behind the scenes, in truth, Queen Esther was deeply plagued by her situation. Married against her will to a non-Jew – an antisemite himself with a depraved moral character – Esther was trapped in a hopeless situation. In fact, says the Talmud, she planned to make advances to Haman at their fateful meeting so that the king would have both him and her executed, thus releasing her from her desperate predicament. But that was not to be, and so she persevered, for the good of her nation, despite the pain it brought her. She was an eternal model of self-sacrifice and endless devotion to a noble cause.

Esther Pollard inherited those very same amazing qualities along with her name. And forevermore, she will inspire generations to come with the undying love and devotion she demonstrated to Jonathan, to the Land of Israel and to the Jewish people. May her name always be a blessing.

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. [email protected]