The man Israel left behind and the damage left with him by Johnathan Tobin and American Jews find way to keep Thanksgiving (yesterday) and A different side to Bitachon -the sad story of Mordechai Samet and Beit El settlement expansion threatens to bury Jewish Second Temple heritage and Apollonia National Park 1 of 4
Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.
Having plans sounds like a good idea until you have to put on clothes and leave the house.
It's weird being the same age as old people.
When I was a kid I wanted to be older…this is not what I expected.
Life is like a helicopter. I don't know how to operate a helicopter.
Chocolate is God's way of telling us he likes us a little bit chubby.
It's probably my age that tricks people into thinking I'm an adult.
Never sing in the shower! Singing leads to dancing, dancing leads to slipping, and slipping leads to paramedics seeing you naked.
So remember…Don't sing!
My wife asked me to take her to one of those restaurants where they make the food right in front of you. So I took her to Subwayand that's how the fight started.
During the middle ages they celebrated the end of the plague with wine. Does anyone know if there is anything plannedwhen this one ends?
I don't think the therapist is supposed to say "Wow," that many times in your first session but here we are…
I see people about my age mountain climbing; I feel good getting my leg through my underwear without losing my balance.
We can all agree that in 2015 not a single person got the answer correct to, "Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?"
So if a cow doesn't produce milk, is it a milk dud or an udder failure?
**If you can't think of a word say "I forgot the English word for it." That way people will think you're bilingual instead of an idiot.** (my favorite for the day!)
I'm at a place in my life where errands are starting to count as going out.
Coronacoaster (Noun): The ups and downs of a pandemic. One day you're loving your bubble, doing work outs, baking banana breadand going for long walks and the next you're crying, drinking gin for breakfast and missing people you don't even like.
Don't be worried about your smartphone or TV spying on you. Your vacuum cleaner has been collecting dirt on you for years.
I'm getting tired of being part of a major historical event.
I don't always go the extra mile, but when I do it's because I missed my exit.
How many of us have looked around our family reunion and thought, "Well aren't we just two clowns short of a circus?"
At what point can we just start using 2020 as profanity? As in: "That's a load of 2020." or "What in the 2020." or "abso-2020-lutely."
You don't realize how old you are until you sit on the floor and then try to get back up.
We all get heavier as we get older, because there's a lot more information in our heads. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
This is the day dogs have been waiting for. They realize their owners can't leave the house and they get them 24/7. Dogs are rejoicing everywhere. Cats are contemplating suicide.
If you are trying to impress me with your vehicle it better be a food truck.
Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto.
Apollonia National Park One of four
Our trip November 11, 2020
Despite COVID-19, American Jews find ways to give thanks on Thanksgiving
Government leaders and health officials have advised against indoor holiday gatherings, even with only one other household.
By HALEY COHEN NOVEMBER 25, 2020 21:30
NEW YORK – Traditionally, Thanksgiving was an action-packed day for the Chelst family in Washington, DC, beginning with an afternoon of football and extending into a night of socializing.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across the country, they, like most Americans, experienced a different kind of holiday.
"This year it's dinner and leaving, that was the compromise," said Michael Chelst. He plans to eat with his wife, two daughters and at the opposite end of an eight-foot table, his 90-year-old mother-in-law.
"Because she is a fragile age, we planned everything out in advance. She sits down first, one person brings her food, and the rest of us stay at the other end of the long table. We had to weigh the risk of having people together or her not being able to have Thanksgiving. We consulted with doctors and decided it was the right choice as long as we did so carefully," Chelst told The Jerusalem Post.
Chelst is the owner of Char Bar, Washington, DC's only kosher meat restaurant. He said that on a typical Thanksgiving the eatery would seat about 180 people. This year, only 15 people reserved spots.
The restaurant has shifted their focus to delivery. Chelst said that to help the community, he waived delivery fees on fresh kosher turkeys. He noted that most families did not order full turkeys this year, but rather were looking to feed small groups.
"We had to adjust our menu from whole turkeys to meals for two to four people," he continued. "Last year we did about 10 deliveries and they were all for very large orders. This year we're somewhere around 75 smaller orders."
Chelst added that his delivery team was prepared going into Thanksgiving because they have already worked through several Jewish holidays in the pandemic. "We're already in that mindset," he said.
THANKSGIVING, WHICH is traditionally the busiest travel period of the year in the US, came at a particularly precarious time in the virus surge. More than one million people were diagnosed with COVID between November 5 and 13, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Government leaders and health officials have advised against indoor holiday gatherings, even with only one other household.
With that in mind, some families decided the safest option was to keep the day intimate, inviting no guests.
For American Jews, that antithesis of the family holiday was perhaps easier to adjust to, since they already experienced a constricted Passover and High Holy Day season.
For Laura Shovan, this Thanksgiving is an opportunity to think outside the box. She is planning an at-home version of the popular team building game Escape Room for her husband and two adult daughters, who moved back home at the start of the pandemic.
"I never would have planned something like this if it weren't for COVID," said Shovan, who lives in a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. "Usually Thanksgiving means we get dressed up, take out the fine china and see extended family. My kids are dealing with fully virtual college and not being with their peers. Everyone is stressed about getting sick. We've been telling our kids to just take it easy and I think that should apply to Thanksgiving, too."
Shovan said her family started observing Shabbat dinner during the pandemic. "That has been a wonderful thing that we will keep post pandemic. With the days flowing together the way they are, having the Friday night ritual has been special," she continued.
"We're a transitioning family, my kids are getting older. This might be the last period of time that it's just the four of us, so it's nice to take it easy together."
But the holiday looked bleaker for those infected with the virus.
Evan Wasserman, a 29-year-old medical resident at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, was diagnosed with COVID on November 14. Instead of visiting his parents in Florida like previous years, Wasserman is spending Thanksgiving quarantined in his apartment.
"Rather than being embraced by family and surrounded by comfort food, I'll join virtually this year. It obviously won't be the same. It's not good eating alone while everyone watches from a distance," Wasserman told the Post.
Wasserman, however, said others have it worse than him.
"At Hartford Hospital, we're seeing a huge spike in critically ill patients with COVID related issues. It's so tough because we're not allowing visitors under any circumstance if you're COVID positive," he continued.
"Patients want to see their families and families want to see patients, especially during the holidays. Isolation is impacting their well-being. Of course, if a patient is critically ill, they can't cater to a special diet so Thanksgiving will just feel like another day in the hospital."
Wasserman added that spending Passover and Rosh Hashanah unable to travel and without family hasn't made Thanksgiving alone any easier. "Things will never get less difficult so long as we're in this circumstance," he said. "Any time you're unable to see family when you're expected to congregate and you're unable to do so, it's depressing."
The isolated holiday inspired some to volunteer.
When the pandemic began, Suzanne Klasfeld got involved with the New York City-based Jewish Association Serving the Aging. Klasfeld, a 22-year-old student at Tulane University, was matched with a senior citizen for weekly phone calls.
"I didn't want to just sit and do nothing, I want to look back at this weird time and say I helped," she told the Post.
For Thanksgiving, Klasfeld planned a special call, knowing that her match – a grandmother in the Bronx, would be quarantined on the holiday.
"It's nice to talk to her and distract her from life in the apartment. I'm glad I'll be able to wish her a happy Thanksgiving," said Klasfeld.
Talia Pearl, a social worker in New York City, helped organize a Thanksgiving food and book distribution with the Jewish Child Care Association. She distributed "Thanksgiving kits" including stuffing, pie shells and children's books to over 50 low-income families in the Bronx hit hard by coronavirus.
"Families can't be together or with their support systems this year, so we want to make sure that they can at least have food. We're trying to give them everything but the turkey," said Pearl.
She noted that much of the community was eager to donate to the initiative, more so than in previous years. "Our local grocery store was very willing to work with us to provide for families. I think that it's specific to the pandemic that people are much more open to looking for ways to help out."
Beit El settlement expansion threatens to bury Jewish Second Temple heritage
As apartment towers rise in West Bank town, remains of Jewish village conquered by Romans fight the elements — and population boom — for a chance at preservation in planned park
he rescue mission to lift out some 100 Second Temple-era vessels from an underground cistern was well under way when The Times of Israel visited the Khirbet Kafr Murr excavation in today's Beit El settlement, during the first week of November.
Stashed there by Jewish villagers just ahead of the Revolt against the Romans in circa 66 CE, the unexpected collection of pottery jars and cooking pots has survived almost 2,000 years of winters. Now, as the plastered walls are seeping water during the season's first (much awaited) rains, they are being transferred to drier ground by a team of archaeologists working against the dual threats of nature and construction.
Excavation director Yevgeny Aharonovich, a member of the Ministry of Defense's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) archaeology unit, met this journalist at the excavation site in a newly planned neighborhood of Beit El while flanked by a member of the COGAT spokesperson's office — a required attaché for media visits in the sensitive West Bank.
Affectionately called "Abu Tomer" by the majority Arabic-speaking laborers, Aharonovich has led sporadic excavations at the site since 2006. For the past two years, he has worked here intensively, keeping time with the construction of a neighborhood of high-rise apartment towers upon "released" land, where his team has finished its documentation and preservation work.
The excavation's recent discovery of the trove in the water cistern, Aharonovich says, was a complete surprise. As the fill dirt was removed, dozens of intact or nearly intact jars were found stacked neatly together in niches in the cistern. The Jews clearly expected to return for them almost two millennia ago.
"It was a one-time only experience," he says. "Definitely a high point of the excavation so far."
Excavation director Yevgeny Aharonovich stands at the bottom of the Second Temple-era water cistern at the ancient settlement of Kafr Murr, today a neighborhood of Beit El, November 3, 2020. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/The Times of Israel)
Aharonovich has added more archaeological staff to complete the rescue mission and they are buzzing around the opening of the cistern. The pit's mouth is protected by an olive green IDF tent, while a mechanical air pump's large pipe injects fresh air inside. An aluminum ladder lets the team go below, while a tripod-held pulley allows them to lift out artifact-laden buckets.
After cups of thick coffee and equally dense historical background, we descend the slick, mud-crusted rungs to find a team of archaeologists feverishly working in relative darkness. Our shoes make suction sounds on the earth as we move, careful not to step on fragile vessels being packed away or trip over (dead) power cables. The electricity had just cut out, we are told, so we all use our ubiquitous phone flashlights to peer around the dank pit. An unfazed archaeologist sits in a corner, cataloguing finds on a ghoulishly lit laptop.
The rains have turned the cistern's fine dusty dirt to mud and the excavation is inevitably slowed, even as the pressure to remove the objects ramps up with more rain in the forecast. A concerned Aharonovich calmly directs his team, even while feeding information to this journalist. He wants to wrap things up here. Winter is coming.
An archaeologist and worker quickly remove pottery vessels from the bottom of a Second Temple-period water cistern at the ancient settlement of Kafr Murr, today a neighborhood of Beit El, November 3, 2020. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/The Times of Israel)
Later, as parts of his team pray along to the faint strains of a muezzin from a nearby Arab village, Aharonovich explains that he has led nine seasons of excavations here, as the settlement has expanded.
The ancient settlement of Kafr Murr, today a neighborhood of Beit El, November 3, 2020. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/The Times of Israel)
Despite the obvious investment taking place to document and preserve it, Khirbet Kafr Murr is not a classically "important" site: The archaeological surveys and excavations point to a small agricultural settlement spanning from the 8th century BCE to 749 CE. At its peak during the Jewish Revolt against the Romans, a few 100 Jews would have taken a final stand here. Today, just one of the many towering apartment buildings encroaching upon the excavation site holds many more.
As with every salvage excavation, the question looms over how much will be done to preserve and present the findings for the public. And while concrete plans are discussed in the local regional council and COGAT to establish a modest archaeological park in the heart of the new neighborhood, other sections have already been documented, carefully covered, and are now buried under the cement foundations of the new apartment towers.
Archaeologist Aharonovich's personal history is enmeshed into Khirbet Kafr Murr in an "Only in Israel" way: The fit 50-something immigrated from the Former Soviet Union in 1990, and it was here that he went through IDF basic training in 1992, at the famed Bahad 4 training base.
At the time of Aharonovich's brief IDF service (he had already served in the Soviet army), he says there was little hint of the archaeology that lay under the asphalt surface of the base's parade grounds. Pointing to a flat, dark patch, Aharonovich explains that before this was an IDF base, it was a Jordanian base. Both countries made use of a base established by the British Mandate, which had bulldozed the site and paved it over — destroying countless artifacts and ancient architecture.
Pottery vessels recovered from the Second Temple period water cistern at the ancient settlement of Kafr Murr, today a neighborhood of Beit El. (Dotan Traubman)
It was only after the IDF left the scene in 1995 and civilians began building that the archaeological remains truly started to surface.
Today's attraction — the water cistern and its pottery treasures — were found under the remains of a Second Temple-period stone house. Another earlier archaeological highlight was the discovery of a mikveh (ritual bath) which also would have been under a house.
Aharonovich says that when the Israeli Jews began resettling the area after the IDF's retreat, a temporary mobile home housing a family had sat on top of the mikveh. He tracked the family down to show them the ancient mikveh that had been under their feet.
Today, he says, the family awaits the end of his exploration of the past so that their future — their new home — can be built in another planned high-rise.
Rise and fall
Khirbet Kafr Murr is found at the top of a hilly area in today's Beit El settlement, north-east of the Palestinian Authority's stronghold of Ramallah. At its height just prior to the Jewish Revolt and the Roman conquest of circa 70 CE, Aharonovich estimates it spread over 20 dunams (5 acres) with some 100 residents.
The location is just off main Roman connecting roads — not a main intersection, Aharonovich laughs, but maybe the next junction down the road.
A Second Temple-period mikveh at the ancient settlement of Kafr Murr, today a neighborhood of Beit El, November 3, 2020. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/The Times of Israel)
The site was documented in early superficial archaeological surveys — in 1838, 1869, by the British prior to building their army base (later used by the Jordanians). After 1967 it was turned into the IDF army training base Bahad 4, which at its height housed 2,000 soldiers. In the 1980s, when still an IDF base, Prof. Israel Finkelstein completed a quick visual survey, but due to the crowded army structures, concluded there was no salvageable archaeology.
An intact 2,000-year-old cooking pot discovered in a water cistern in the ancient settlement of Kafr Murr, today a neighborhood of Beit El. (Dotan Traubman)
Years after the army base was moved in 1995 to its present location near the Gaza border, nine seasons of salvage excavations began in 2006 ahead of the urban spread of the West Bank settlement. Archaeologists discovered that while the Khirbet Kafr Murr settlement was at its height just ahead of the Jewish Revolt, it had ongoing roots stemming from the 8th century BCE, although it had been briefly abandoned following the Maccabean Revolt.
It was conquered by the Romans before the end of the third year of the Jewish Revolt despite the settlement's best efforts: Coins dating up through the third year of the Jewish Revolt — but not beyond — testify to the end of settlement.
The team has also found stone cups — used during the Second Temple era for their innate purity — and glass artifacts, he says. Only two mikvaot or ritual baths have been discovered, one of which is already covered by an apartment tower, as well as a pottery center and industrial production of olive oil and wine.
Silver coin found on the site of ancient Kafr Murr dating from 420-390 BCE. (COGAT Spokesperson's Office)
An impressively large, rather amateurly built defensive wall was constructed to protect the villagers. It cuts across a large olive press, which Aharonovich believes was put in place but unfinished ahead of the revolt.
We stand upon a portion of the excavated section of the defensive wall, which runs 32 meters (100 feet), with a width of between 2-2.8 meters (6.5-9 feet). It's built of dressed stones from houses from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but the stones are chosen haphazardly.
The wall at Kafr Murr was built quickly, as an emergency measure, says Aharonovich, which is seen in the crooked walls and differently sized stone. According to Aharonovich, it is similar to the walls found at Gamla in the north and Yodfat in the lower Galilee which also faced the Romans during the revolt.
Excavation director Yevgeny Aharonovich stands next to an unused Second Temple-era olive press at the ancient settlement of Kafr Murr, today a neighborhood of Beit El, November 3, 2020. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/ToI)
There are plenty of other indications of the Second Temple community's imminent flight, including the dozens of orderly stacked jars discovered in the impromptu storage facility of the water cistern. Aharonovich says that inter-disciplinary residue analysis of the pottery is currently being undertaken at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The dank, humid conditions of the cistern have made it impossible to discern what was stored in the pots otherwise.
A fortified wall built on the eve of the Roman conquest of ancient Kafr Murr during the Jewish Revolt. (COGAT Spokesperson's Office)
Other hi-tech analysis is being done at Bar-Ilan University on some of the hundreds of grape pips, found in an unusually deep wine press reserve that abuts the already built apartment towers. Aharonovich says the reservoir could have held up to four tonnes of grape juice.
Looking around the surrounding hills, it's easy to imagine that vineyards were apparently plentiful here in Roman era when the settlement was connected to the "Gofna" region, a name based on the Hebrew word "gefen" or vine. (The village "Jafna," mentioned by the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus, is 3.3 km north of Kafr Murrm where modern Gifna is today.)
With the grape pips' analysis, there is some hope and a "rare opportunity" that ancient DNA can be extracted, and perhaps even the revitalization of ancient vine strains, says Aharonovich.
Umayyad-era vessels that were shattered during the great earthquake of 749 CE, discovered in the ancient settlement of Kafr Murr, today a neighborhood of Beit El. (COGAT Spokesperson's Office)
The early Byzantine settlement was much smaller than the previous Jewish one. At this later settlement's center was a large refectorium, a surprising two-storied building which would have served for eating, and a rather small, poorly preserved church built in the basilica style. There is also what looks similar to a Roman bathhouse, which may have been used by pilgrims during their stay in the area, and a large dovecote.
The settlement was destroyed in the 749 CE earthquake that shook the entire region. Numerous finds point to the earthquake — from piles of shattered vessels, to an intact skeleton of a donkey, which was found next to an iron ring to which he was likely bound.
A stash of Second Temple-era vessels discovered in a water cistern in the ancient settlement of Kafr Murr, today a neighborhood of Beit El. (Yevgeny Aharonovich)
All told, the archaeological evidence uncovered at Khirbet Kafr Murr paints the picture of a small village that had several periods of growth, which were punctuated by violent conquest and natural destruction.
Even as the Jewish Beit El settlement expands in the heart of the West Bank, an envisioned archaeological park at the center of the new neighborhood, says Aharonovich, would preserve all of the settlement periods — Jewish, Christian and early Muslim.
Gazing at the tall construction cranes alongside the new apartment towers, one can only they think that perhaps this is no field of dreams. If they build an archaeology park, they, the residents, will surely come.
In March 2001, FBI agents raided Kiryas Joel, rounding up 14 suspects on suspicion of a string of financial crimes. Members of the group had falsified social security numbers and used the details to fraudulently obtain tax refunds, life insurance payments, and bank loans. Chief among them was Mordechai Samet, who was convicted on 33 counts of racketeering, money laundering, and fraud that netted about $5.5 million dollars. He was finally released a few weeks ago, after spending twenty years in prison. Mishpacha magazine just published a feature story on "Reb" Mordechai Samet. When I started reading it, I was initially sickened. The article portrays him as an inspirational man on a mission to teach powerful messages about emunah and bitachon. I began to feel a strong sense of deja vu. It was reminiscent of how the yeshivish community, with few protests, lauded Shalom Rubashkin, the "Baal HaNes," as a heroic martyr, and a baal bitachon par excellence. Yet, to quote Rav Hershel Shechter'scomments on Rubashkin, "It's scandalous - the man is a criminal... [but] they're turning him into the next Lubavitcher rebbe!" Rubashkin never speaks about having done anything wrong or about the need to be law-abiding - and in fact, claims to have been the victim of libel. His message is only about his heroic ability to trust in Hashem to help him with his plight - never about his mistakes and wrongdoings that got him there in the first place.
But I was pleasantly surprised to see that the article about Samet reflects a very different approach, in two highly significant ways.
First is that, unlike with Rubashkin, Samet is not only out to teach people about bitachon, but also to urge them to stay away from white-collar crime. Although not adequately stressing the immorality and dishonesty of it, he does stress the foolishness of attempting it, and the chillul Hashem that it causes.
Second is that, at the very end of the article, it becomes clear that Samet is not giving the distorted bitachon message of Rubashkin. As I wrote last year, emunah and bitachon means that Hashem is in charge of our livelihoods; and the practical ramification of such a belief is that there is nothing to be gained by engaging in dishonest activity. The only speech about emunah and bitachon that Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin should be giving is about how he didn't have it, and suffered as a result. Fortunately, Samet makes precisely this point:
In retrospect, Samet admits that if he'd had the wellsprings of bitachon and emunah that he developed and built up during his long years in prison, he would never have gotten into the whole dangerous and dubious enterprise that entangled him so badly.
"Anyone who has strong emunah knows that HaKadosh Baruch Hu provides parnassah to all — from the tiniest creations to the largest ones — without a person needing to employ questionable methods, and especially when those actions are against the law," Samet says today. "No tricks. And it's not only because I sat in prison for nearly two decades, but because HaKadosh Baruch Hu says not to do these things. And our job is to make a kiddush Hashem in This World and not, chalilah, the opposite.
"Ultimately, we don't gain anything and we pay a heavy price. I suffered so much, I caused so much heartache and pain to myself and others. I ask my children forgiveness because they had to suffer so much because of my lack of caution. I ask mechilah from my wife, a tzadeikes, who waited for me all these years. Today, I hope and pray that my sins have been atoned for, and that, as Hashem promises, my transgressions have turned to merits. But please, no one should take the path I did to get there."
What a refreshing different message to hear!
There's one more very significant point in the Mishpacha article, though I fear not enough people will notice the significance of it. It explains that Samet was not a shrewd con-man out to make a killing, but rather someone simply trying to make ends meet:
"I never aspired to be rich," he said in his prison interview. "All I wanted to do was scrape by, pay tuition, mortgage, kehillah dues, and make bar mitzvahs and weddings without needing to accept charity.
And there we have a perfect illustration of the truth of Chazal's words, and the terrible failure of the charedi community for determinedly ignoring them:
"Whoever does not teach his son a trade... it is as though he has taught him to steal." ( Kiddushin 29a)
The man Israel left behind and the damage left with him
It is only right that Pollard, who served more time in prison than many murderers, can now make aliya. A US Jew's view of the saga. Op-ed..
It was about time. Almost exactly 35 years to the day after Jonathan Pollard and his former wife, Anne, were refused entry to the Israel embassy in Washington, the spy that the Jewish state's operatives abandoned is being allowed to fulfill his dream of making aliyah.
The U.S. Justice Department could have extended the onerous conditions placed on his parole after his 2015 release from federal prison. But in one more friendly gesture towards Israel from the Trump administration, the DOJ passed up the chance to keep Pollard in the United States. As a result, the 66-year-old is now free to do what he has always said was his wish: to live the rest of his life in Israel.
The appalling events that led to Pollard—an American Jew who was employed as an analyst for the U.S. Navy who spied for Israel—to seek asylum in the embassy on Nov. 21, 1985, were part of one of the greatest blunders in Israeli history. Israeli diplomats had no choice but to close the door in the face of the desperate Pollard, lest they make an already catastrophic situation even worse. He wound up serving 30 years in federal prison, some of them in solitary confinement, after being sentenced to life in prison for the crime of betraying his oath and delivering a massive amount of U.S. intelligence to Israel.
His plight and the disproportionate sentence he received—no one who spied against the United States for an ally, as opposed to an enemy, has ever received anything close to such a long term in prison—made Pollard something of a hero to many American Jews, as well as most Israelis. Many believe that his actions were vital to Israeli security and saved lives, something that is a matter of conjecture and may never be fully known until the files on his case are revealed, if indeed they ever are. More to the point, there is a sense among Israelis that what happened to him violated a cardinal precept of the country's military ethos: that no soldier should be left behind.
To his credit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has always taken seriously his country's obligation to get Pollard out of prison and to Israel. That was not true of some of his predecessors, and at this point, it is appropriate not just to celebrate Pollard's arrival in Israel, but to assess the damage that his actions—and those of his Israeli handlers and their superiors did—not just to the spy, but to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to American Jewry.
Pollard was not the super-spy villain responsible for grave harm to American interests that some in the U.S. security establishment depicted him as being as part of their successful campaign to keep him in prison for so long. Indeed, the notion that the secrets he gave Israel were somehow conveyed to the Soviet Union undermining U.S. intelligence and costing lives is a myth that was debunked once it became clear that the Russians had highly placed spies of their own in Washington, including the CIA's Aldrich Ames and the FBI's Robert Hanssen. The all-out effort by then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger to see Pollard locked away for life seemed to stem from prejudice against Israel that seemed almost to border on anti-Semitism.
A Hebrew sign in Israel reading "We want Pollard at home," referring to jailed spy Jonathan Pollard. Credit: Tamar Hayardeni via Wikimedia Commons.
As I wrote in a detailed essay in Commentary on the 25th anniversary of the case, Pollard's long sentence was also the result of near-criminal blunders committed by his defense team, coupled with a foolish decision by the spy and his wife to make public appeals for sympathy in which they treated his actions as justified. That was seen by both federal prosecutors and the judge in the case as violating the plea deal he had negotiated, allowing them to unfairly lock him away for life without the trouble of conducting a full trial.
But by the same token, he doesn't deserve to be called a hero. The havoc he caused far outweighed any speculative help he may have given Israel.
Pollard's aspiration to help Israel came from a genuine desire on his part to help the besieged Jewish state with which he felt such a strong affinity. Pollard's aspiration to help Israel came from a genuine desire on his part to help the besieged Jewish state with which he felt such a strong affinity. After hearing a presentation to a Jewish audience from Col. Aviem Sella, the pilot who led the Israeli strike on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, the 29-year-old Pollard reached out with an offer to help. Sella ultimately placed Pollard in the hands of LAKAM, a special scientific intelligence-gathering unit of the Defense Ministry headed by veteran spy Rafi Eitan, who among other accomplishments was part of the team that captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Eitan also had close ties to Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin, then prime minister and defense minister of Israel. Decades later, he became a successful politician and served in Israel's Cabinet.
Pollard brought classified material to their first meetings with Sella in 1984, and that was just the beginning of an avalanche of intelligence he gave the Israelis over the next year, including satellite photos, secret memos and reports, and even documents that had references to U.S. sources. This gave Israel the ability to track American intelligence operations in the region that might have assisted the 1985 Israeli Air Force strike on the PLO headquarters in Tunisia. Pollard also gave the Israelis the 10-volume "U.S. Radio and Signal Intelligence Manual," the theft of which ultimately cost the Pentagon—and U.S. taxpayers—billions of dollars since the compromise of these secrets meant the entire system had to be replaced.
Pollard sought no compensation from the handlers he looked up to as heroes. But the ruthless Eitan believed that it was necessary to morally compromise Pollard so as to better control him. Sadly, Pollard succumbed, and took money and jewelry for his wife, who had also been dragged into the scheme.
Nor can it be argued, as some of his defenders claimed, that Pollard's spying was justified because the United States was holding back information that could have helped Israel. That wasn't Pollard's decision to make, and even if it was true, he could have helped Israel more—as well as spared himself and his family much trouble and grief—had he resigned and spoken out about the issue.
Jerusalem downplayed what had happened, and those involved did their best to cover their tracks.
Had Eitan and his political bosses not been so influenced by the size and the significance of the haul their new agent brought them, perhaps they would have come to their senses and understood that what they were doing was a blunder. After all, Israel's Mossad had promised not to spy on its CIA partners, a The fact all of the Israelis involved in the caper were able to flee the country while they made no provision for extracting Pollard once he fell under suspicion was even more disgraceful. pledge that was all the more significant because it was during this period that the administration of President Ronald Reagan was upgrading ties with Israel to that of a strategic ally. Israel's relationship with its sole superpower ally was far more important than a desire for a treasure trove of information, not all of which was likely directly relevant to the defense of the Jewish state.
Once Pollard's disloyalty was revealed—something that his carelessness and the scope of his thievery made inevitable—it became obvious that the decision to run an agent in the Pentagon would have serious consequences. Equally important, the implications of Eitan's decision to do something that as a rule Israel generally seeks to avoid—recruiting a local Jew to spy on their own country—would be just as serious. The fact all of the Israelis involved in the caper were able to flee the country while they made no provision for extracting Pollard once he fell under suspicion was even more disgraceful.
Once Pollard was caught, Israel tried to pretend it was a rogue operation. This was a lie since Eitan had sought permission to go forward with the scheme from his superiors. It's also undoubtedly true that the information he supplied almost certainly went straight to the top of the political food chain of the coalition government that was running the country in the time, thereby implicating Shamir and Rabin, as well as Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Instead of cooperating fully with the Americans as they promised, Jerusalem downplayed what had happened, and those involved did their best to cover their tracks. Indeed, as long as any of that famous trio was in power, Israel did nothing to help, let alone to recover Pollard.
The entire affair created unnecessary tension between the two allies that lasted for decades.
What followed was a long-running shadow play in which many American Jews and Israelis portrayed Pollard as a martyr to anti-Semitism—something that only undermined the otherwise strong case for clemency for him and also hardened the desire of U.S. intelligence to keep him in prison in order to make an example of him. Eventually, he even became a bargaining chip in which his release was offered as an inducement to make Israel make territorial concessions in peace negotiations, though in the end, Netanyahu's efforts to get President Bill Clinton to free him in this manner ultimately failed.
While the value of his spying and the damage he did to America remains a matter of debate, what isn't in question is that this affair created unnecessary tension between the two allies that lasted for decades.
U.S. authorities spent many years hounding Jewish personnel searching for another mythical Israeli spy, harming the careers of many Jews. It also fed into an anti-Semitic narrative... Just as bad was the shadow that his spying cast on the loyalty of every Jew working in the Pentagon. Indeed, U.S. authorities spent many years hounding Jewish personnel searching for another mythical Israeli spy, harming the careers of many Jews. It also fed into an anti-Semitic narrative that dovetailed with the "Israel Lobby" myth that portrayed the United States as being ruthlessly manipulated by Jews who were more loyal to Israel than to America.
It is only right that the ordeal of the spy, who paid far more dearly than he should have for his mistakes (Pollard served more time in prison than many murderers), is over. Let's hope that after so much suffering, he finds some peace in Israel and will avoid doing anything that will fuel a revival of the controversy he engendered.
But it is just as important that his many supporters not misinterpret what happened to him as being solely a morality tale of a heroic Jew who was persecuted by anti-Semites for helping Israel. Both the hapless Pollard and his cynical Israeli handlers—none of whom were ever truly held accountable for their part in this fiasco—supplied ammunition to those anti-Semites who falsely claim that there is a contradiction between being an American patriot and having a deep concern for Israel. Sadly, that will remain Jonathan Pollard's true legacy long after he has completed his journey to the Jewish state.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.