It was so sad to learn on January 31 that Esther Pollard had died in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem at age 68. Esther, who married Jonathan Pollard in 1993 while he was serving a life sentence in the US for spying for Israel, spearheaded the successful campaign for his release and battled cancer in recent years, but succumbed to what was termed corona complications.
During my time as editor of The Jerusalem Post (2011-16), I got to know Esther well. I supported her struggle, publishing many news items as well as editorials and op-eds calling for Jonathan’s freedom, some of which she initiated. Esther, who lived in Jerusalem, was smart, tough and articulate – and a really good writer. We met and emailed each other often, discussing her ideas on how to best present Jonathan’s case, secure his release and get him to Israel.
When Jonathan was released on November 20, 2015, after serving 30 years in jail, I was happy for them both: they could finally live together in New York and perhaps realize their dream of making aliyah.
Five years later, Jonathan’s parole expired, the harsh conditions imposed on him ended, and on December 30, 2020, he and Esther flew to Israel on the private plane of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. They were met at the airport by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who presented Jonathan with an Israeli ID card (Esther already had Israeli citizenship), and they were ecstatic as they kissed the tarmac.
The Pollards moved to an apartment in Jerusalem and settled down to life in the holy land, albeit under corona. They happily allowed people to take pictures of them while shopping downtown, and just a month before Esther died, they went on a tour of the Golan Heights organized by Shurat HaDin (Israel Law Center), where my friend visiting from Los Angeles, Louis Kemp, took photographs, including a poignant one of them standing in front of a picture of Eli Cohen, the Israeli spy hanged in Syria in 1965.
They may be among the last images taken of Esther, and there is one particularly nice one of her smiling. She looked so happy.
Esther (born Elaine Zeitz) was a beautiful school teacher from Chomedy, Laval in Canada who had met Jonathan in Israel as a teenager and began writing to him in jail. (Jonathan’s first wife, Anne, whom he divorced after their arrest and incarceration, moved to Tel Aviv.)
Esther devoted her life to Jonathan, and although ailing, she became the driving force in making their home in Israel. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called her “a woman whose devotion and love for Jonathan Pollard became a symbol of strength, determination and faith,” while Netanyahu noted that “Esther showed immense devotion to her husband, did not give up, did not stop dreaming.”
Thousands attended Esther’s funeral on Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuhot. Jonathan wept as he addressed her: “This is not how I expected for us to come home to the land. But as much as you love the land, the land will now love you, the land will embrace you, and you will truly become part of the land you loved so much.”
Esther loved the Nishmat Kol Chai prayer of praise and gratitude believed to bless those who recite it, which she posted on the Pollard website. She also loved Kippalive’s “We Are Home,” which she played every day after she and Jonathan moved to Israel. At her seven-day memorial service in Jerusalem, the group sang it to Jonathan, who said it had become “a theme song” for her.
May Jonathan be comforted by the good memories he has of Esther, and may her memory be a blessing forever.