Chances are you are just a tiny breadcrumb trying to make a life in New York, one of the most expensive cities in the world.
You never hurt a fly. You did all the right things. But you somehow failed: You found your way into the house of a nice Jewish family, you got a free ride for a couple of months but suddenly there’s bad news, really bad news.
It’s nearly Pesach and your Jewish host family has decided to get rid of all hametz.
But how does this sophisticated cleaning operation work? How much does it cost to outsource it to specialists?
And most importantly, what are the loopholes in Jewish law that allow you to keep all that forbidden-for-Passover stuff around for after the holiday?
Watch and learn — and spare a tear for the littlest victims of our most ancient tradition.
Photo by Martyna Starosta
Editor’s note: Whether it’s a silver kiddush cup, a siddur that survived the Holocaust, or a wedding ring — heirlooms tell the story of our families. Please share your Jewish heirloom stories with us below by April 25. Several submissions will be featured in the Forward in May.
In my family, we call our grandmother (at least) once a week. A reminder clinks around on my wrist almost every day.
When I was 12 years old, nearing my bat-mitzvah, my mom and grandmother sat me down and presented me with two gold bracelets — sturdy, but thin, carefully engraved with a vine-like pattern. “Don’t lose them,” they said. (Confession: I did, for about two years. Sorry, Mamie.)
My mother had gone through the same rite of passage, and my grandmother before her. The bracelets have been passed down from eldest girl, to eldest girl, brought to Montreal from Morocco, where my great-grandfather purchased them for my grandmother for her 7th birthday, in December 1944.
The gold engravers of Marrakesh were known for their craftsmanship, my grandmother recently told me.
Both my parents were born in Morocco, my father in Meknes, my mother in Marrakesh. In the early 1970s, when so-called “Arabization,” and nationalism forced many Jews to leave the country, my mother’s family followed.
The author with her parents a few weeks before the Passover Seder / Courtesy of Masha Leon
I don’t remember having a Pesach Seder as a child in pre-war Warsaw. There must have been matzo. But what I do recall is my parents’ presentation of the Exodus saga as an exemplar of liberation, of courage, of “Yiddish” ethos.
Not until we got to Vilnius (Vilno) in 1940 did I experience an authentic Seder at the home of a cousin. Fluent in Yiddish, I could not decipher the Hebrew Hagaddah text, but my Orthodox-raised parents — Zelda and Matvey Bernstein — blitzed through the Seder with lightning speed. The Lithuanians were in power. We felt safe. But in June came the Soviet occupation, my father’s arrest by the NKVD and his imprisonment in Lukishki Prison with fellow cellmate Menachem Begin. Then my mother and I got our life-saving Sugihara visas to Japan.
In Kobe, Japan, my mother and I celebrated a Seder of sorts with fellow boarders: Warsaw refugees Yosl Mlotek, Lonia Oler and her twin daughters Hannah and “Hinda.” I do not remember matzos — perhaps JewCom, the local Jewish community council, provided some. Our landlord was a former Russian general who believed that the Tsar was coming back. Since our Seder coincided with Easter, the general, in a be-medaled full regalia white uniform with saber at the side, asked us to toast the portrait of the Tsar that hung in the main room.
1. The world’s oldest illuminated Haggadah
This 14th century Haggadah is the earliest known Ashkenazi attempt to artistically depict the story of Passover. It’s a pretty creative retelling of the story, mainly because the people depicted in the story have the heads of animals — hence the manuscript’s title, “The Bird’s Head Haggadah.” This is believed to have been an attempt to avoid displaying a “graven image” alongside a sacred text. It’s also the first text to include the baking of matzo in the Exodus story. The images are not extraordinary, but you can imagine that it was a pretty big deal at the time it was published.
2. The Haggadah that revolutionized the Haggadah
Seder books have evolved over the years in no small way. But if there’s one Haggadah that served as a prototype for books later to come, it was the the Gershon Cohen Haggadah, published in Prague in 1527. This book wasn’t the first illustrated Haggadah, nor was it the first one copied using the printing press. But it was the first, so far as we know, to prove that the contemporary printing method did not have to come at the expense of the evolved tradition of decorating the text. Gershom ben Shlomo Ha-Kohen’s beautifully decorated Haggadah used printing woodcuts and was the first printed Haggadah to include “Adir Hu.”
3. The world’s most beautiful Haggadah
The Szyk Haggadah is considered one of the most beautiful Seder books out there. Though published in the 20th century, the book, hand-lettered and hand-painted, harkens to the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages. Drawn up amidst the rise of the Nazis, Arthur Szyk’s book draws a parallel between the Third Reich and the Ancient Egyptians. In an early sketch, Hitler’s mustache reportedly appeared on Pharaoh’s face. He had a hard time finding someone to publish the manuscript, even after fleeing to England. But after years of financial stress, his friends helped him sell 250 editions of the book for $500 each. Today, a deluxe edition costs nearly $9,000.
Tsuri (Heng) Shi, far left, with Michael Freund, right, and Kaifeng Jews. / Shavei Israel
A new Passover destination is being added to the maps this year. Those bored of celebrating the holiday in Florida or Israel can now head to Kaifeng, a city of four million in China’s central Honan province. For the first time in more than 150 years, the city’s small but ancient Jewish community will hold a communal Passover celebration.
Nearly a millennium old and thought to originate from Persia and India, the Jewish community of Kaifeng numbered up to 5,000 people at its heyday between the 14th and 17th century, but fell into decline during the 19th century due to intermarriage and assimilation. Over the past decade or so, with the help of the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization, members of the community have started rediscovering their roots through Shabbat gatherings and study sessions.
This process culminates in a Passover ceremony to be held on April 14, which will be led by Tzuri Shi, a 28-year-old member of the community who immigrated to Israel in October 2009, where he underwent conversion and studied at a yeshiva. According to a press release by Shavei Israel, Shi was sent back to his hometown together with Passover items, ranging from matzoh and haroset to Hebrew and Chinese Haggadahs and kosher-for-Passover cakes. Of the estimated 500–1,000 Jews in Kaifeng, 100 are expected to attend.
It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place. Every year as I ready for Passover, I unlock the nondescript cabinet tucked into a corner of my New York apartment, pull out the two shaky drawers, and am drawn in again by that smell.
The Sheffield silver that I inherited from my parents is my most precious heirloom. It is elegant and graceful, but not fancy, without much embellishment save for ivory handles on the knives. Far more likely to have been used by the servants in Downton Abbey than by the lords and ladies upstairs.
But it is a direct link to my English past. My mother’s family, which had lived in Yorkshire for generations, decided to leave after World War II, when the British economy was in shambles and latent anti-Semitism clouded their lives. Some went to Australia; most went to New York.
My grandfather was the last to leave, and by then, my mother had met my father here, got engaged, and was about to be married. Six weeks before the wedding, my grandfather landed in New York with the remainders of the family’s possessions and a full set of silver cutlery for my parents as a wedding gift.
Their names are inscribed on the outside of matching napkin holders. A few other small, personal momentos are scattered at the bottom of the drawers.
The “Ultimate Digital Haggadah” as viewed on an iPad.
On my shelf I must have a dozen Haggadahs, some annotated, others illustrated and one even illuminated. I have thick hardcover tomes and soft Maxwell House prints — each one serves a different purpose.
But the Haggadah that I use each year, the one that I treasure and would feel remiss celebrating Passover without, is a simple softcover Haggadah that I purchased perhaps a decade ago. True, my other Haggadahs may be nicer — they have deeper insights and better stories, cleaner typesetting and sharper text — but none of them are my Haggadah.
My Haggadah was purchased at a Judaica store in Montreal a few days before I led my first public Seder in Kaunus, Lithuania. I clutched it in my hands when speaking to 120 Lithuanian Jews in the city that once had 35,000 Jews, but today has less than 1000.
Since then my Haggadah has traveled the world with me — across Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. Where I go for Passover, it goes with me.
Young Jews discuss Israel at a ‘Resetting the Table’ event in Brooklyn. / Ezra Weinberg
This past Sunday, in the high-beamed, chilly Brooklyn Lyceum, a group of 20- and 30-somethings tried to talk about Israel — no small feat.
The program, called “Resetting the Table,” was designed to allow young people to get together and go really deep, really fast. Guided through the rough waters of this conversation by Eyal Rabinovitch and a team of Facilitation Fellows trained by him and Daniel Silberbusch, the 50 or so young people who showed up were held to communication guidelines that asked, among other things, that they honor confidentiality, listen with resilience, speak with respect and avoid generalizations. Essentially, it asked them to be civil.
And it’s no wonder: this iteration of “Resetting the Table” was funded by the UJA Federation of New York, and is generally part of a broader initiative at the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA)’s “Civility Initiative.” The model includes two organizing cadres: a group of “Facilitation Fellows” and a group of “conveners.” The Facilitation Fellows, who facilitated Sunday’s conversations, are trained over a period of months to hold these kinds of sessions. The “conveners” are the organizers on the ground, and, coached over many months, are meant to gather their associates at various institutions (from Yeshiva University to Hazon) with the goal of holding facilitated conversation on Israel internally.
The event unfolded unhurriedly: folks trickled in, picked at the marvelous display food from Brooklyn’s new kosher eatery Mason & Mug, heard an introduction from Rabinovitch, participated in an icebreaker, and only then chose their discussion topics, which ranged from “What is the responsibility of American Jews towards Israel?” to “Should there be red lines around who speaks in Hillel, JCCs, and other Jewish institutions?” Then they sat down in sectioned-off corners of the room for facilitated conversation that would last an hour and a half.
Jewish women at the Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue in India / Getty Images
“What are you doing?” I asked my grandmother.
Sitting across the table from her at last year’s family Passover Seder, I had been watching with rapt attention as she peeled an egg — a commonly featured food on the Seder plate. She was handling it with a degree of carefulness that bordered on the neurotic, making sure to capture every tiny bit of shell in a napkin she held open in her other hand. She refused to even answer my question until after she had hurried from the dining room to the bathroom to flush the napkin down the toilet.
When she sat down again, she wasn’t sure how to answer me. “I don’t know why I’m so careful,” she said. “It’s something my mother used to do, and I learned to handle food from her, so I do it too.”
My grandmother’s mother, a Bombay-born Jew, lived most of her life in India and raised her family in that country’s then-flourishing Jewish community. That’s why my family still cooks and eats Indian cuisine. It’s why our main course that night was not brisket but imtabaq, a layered mixture of tomatoes, potatoes and beef. And why, instead of the apple-based haroset, we had haleq, the sweet syrup made from dates and walnuts that I spend all year craving.
Then my father piped up, saying, “It’s Kabbalistic.”
An alternative Seder plate holds a coconut, representing closeted LGBTQ youth. / JQ International
At the time, it didn’t occur to me to be offended or concerned that I was being circled by the cheerleaders and other popular girls who held hands, bowed their heads and prayed for my soul. They were part of “Christian Life” at my high school in Olympia, Washington. I recall several instances when they earnestly attempted to save me from eternal damnation. I didn’t refuse their efforts or consider the implications of their actions. I just wanted to fit in.
I grew up Jewish in the Pacific Northwest. But not in a religiously observant family, or a proud intellectual family, or a family of labor organizers who taught me early and often never to cross a picket line. My family was on the fast track to assimilation, and by high school, being Jewish was simply a reminder that I was an outsider.
By the time I was in my late twenties, I was reeling from a spiritual crisis. A decade of organizing and social change work had left me feeling hopeless and burned out.
Randomly, I was invited to a Passover Seder hosted by an older lesbian couple that I recognized from our local gay bar. I hesitated — not because they were practically strangers, but because I could already feel the potential embarrassment of not remembering the holiday rituals correctly, not being able to read Hebrew, not feeling “Jewish enough.”
Wavering about the decision until the very last moment, I arrived at Devon and Pauline’s home. I approached the door and saw their beautiful mezuzah, alongside the rainbow flags and pink triangle sticker. I walked in the door and was greeted by a number of dogs (naturally), and then found myself sitting alongside several butch-femme couples and a few gay men.
An Egyptian policeman in front of the Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt. / Haaretz
In early April 2012, two friends and I visited the Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue in downtown Cairo to observe the first night of Passover in Egypt. The irony was too obvious to point out, and so we didn’t.
When we arrived, we joined a line that had formed in front of the building, which was guarded by roughly 20 police officers. I glanced around to see if anyone was paying attention, assuming that the sight of people entering a synagogue would cause a stir. Anti-Israel sentiment is widespread in Egypt, and opinions about the government’s relationship with Israel are often suffused with anti-Semitic rhetoric. Two years earlier, a bomb had been thrown at the building. But no one seemed to notice us.
After about ten minutes, we arrived at the front of the line, where a police officer entered our names onto a list. I didn’t like the idea of being on that list, but was pretty sure I wasn’t getting in otherwise. We walked down a corridor that opened into a massive central courtyard, adjoining a high temple wall adorned with Hebrew writing. But we weren’t going in there. Instead, we were ushered into a brightly lit room at the far end of the courtyard.
Seated around the long table in the center of the room were about 15 foreigners, most of whom were likely Jewish; representatives from the U.S. Embassy; Muslim Egyptians; a Moroccan Jewish rabbi who’d flown in from France; and Carmen Weinstein, the head of Egypt’s Jewish community. As far as I could tell, no Israelis were present.
No one welcomed us. We eventually found seats at the end of the long center table, and I waited uncomfortably for the service to begin. I supposed that at this point, in the room filled with Passover celebrants in a Cairo synagogue, I’d finally feel the gravity of the moment. But I mostly felt hungry.
Breaking the Silence
Despite the concept of the occupation being an oddly contested one in some American political circles of late, there is much to decry about Israel’s military rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank. And while some security-minded observers focus on the need for an IDF military presence to widen Israel’s narrow territorial waistline, and others see the settlement blocs as a likely eventual permanent addition to Israel anyway, many would agree that there is one place where the crimes of the occupation are particularly egregious. Many would cite Hebron, the city which, in these pages, Letty Cottin Pogrebin called a straight-out example of apartheid, as being the eye of the militarized-settler-colonial tiger.
I, too, had been looking forward, in a way that righteously indignant liberal Zionists are wont to do, to a trip to Hebron with the anti-occupation Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence a few summers ago, until our plans were stymied. The military didn’t grant us the required travel permit.
So it was with some anticipation that I arranged to speak to three American rabbinical students who attended the Breaking the Silence tour to Hebron last week under the auspices of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. Each one drew an alarming picture of the hardships Palestinians in Hebron face living among Israeli settlers and under IDF rule. “Stark. Shocking. Ghost town. Cages around the (Palestinians’) windows,” were the words they used. Their tour wasn’t whitewashed. Their first stop was the grave of Baruch Goldstein, the notorious murderer of 29 Muslim worshippers 20 years ago.
Yet all three surprised me with the politically nuanced conclusions they drew.
As the debate over whether to pardon convicted spy Jonathan Pollard continues, the most vocal support for his release is coming from the conservative side: AIPAC, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, most recently, families of Israeli terror victims. Meanwhile, outlets like the Forward are arguing against the release, unwilling to send the message that espionage should be punished more leniently when performed by an ally.
But the Free Pollard campaign shouldn’t be left to conservatives alone. There are several good reasons why a liberal — a liberal Zionist, a liberal Jew, or just a liberal human being — should want to see Pollard pardoned. Here are the top five.
1. It would be a basic humanitarian act.
Jonathan Pollard has already spent nearly 30 years behind bars. His health is so poor that his ex-wife fears this is the last chance to have him freed. This alone should be enough to make the case for his release on humanitarian grounds.
It has been argued that pardoning him is not the same thing as releasing him on humanitarian grounds, and that it would send the message that he did no wrong and is excused. It should be noted, however, that the act of pardon, albeit different from prison release for health reasons, does not in any way imply the prisoner’s innocence. It is an act of clemency toward an individual who is guilty. And an act of clemency is exactly what Pollard deserves.
2. Pollard shouldn’t keep paying the price for Israel’s decisions.
Pollard was not some crazy guy sneaking out NCIS classified material for the sake of it. He passed such material on to Israeli intelligence. In other words, he was part of an Israeli intelligence scheme. This is no justification whatsoever, of course. But the fact is that Pollard is now the only individual paying for a crime that involved many others, including Israeli officials.
After the scheme was revealed, there was a period of tension between the U.S. and Israel, with Washington even threatening to cut economic aid. Since then, however, the relationship between the two allies has been mended. So, if the U.S. has de facto “pardoned” Israel, why shouldn’t it pardon Pollard?
On Monday, citizens of Quebec will go to the polls to vote for a new provincial government.
Two main players are facing off in this year’s elections: the Parti Quebecois (PQ), Quebec’s nationalist party currently ruling as a minority government and led by Premier Pauline Marois, against Quebec’s Liberal Party, ousted from power in 2012 after a wave of student protests fighting proposed tuition hikes, with newly-elected leader Philippe Couillard at its head.
1,057,706 people, or 17.8% of voters, already cast their ballots during the advance voting sessions held on March 30-31, and the most recent polls put the Liberals in the lead, with the potential for a majority win.
So, why should you care?
Earlier this year, the PQ released its proposal for a Charter of Values, portrayed as a means of promoting a religiously neutral state, as well as gender equality.
Under the Charter, presented to the National Assembly as Bill 60 and spearheaded by Premier Pauline Marois and Bernard Drainville, public servants would be forbidden to wear so-called “ostentatious” religious symbols such as kippahs, hijabs, turbans or large, and prominent crosses. Smaller and less “conspicuous” objects such as earings bearing religious symbols would still be tolerated.
The Charter has been met with vocal opposition by religious and ethnic minorities who see this push for secularization as discriminatory in a province where religion has long been a touchy subject. The Jewish community in particular has been quick to denounce what it sees as a “bad solution to a non-existent problem.”
Here are a few things to keep in mind as Election Day approaches.
1. This is what will happen if the Parti Quebecois wins a majority.
The Charter of Values is the third item on the party’s electoral strategy sheet, directly below Quebec sovereignty (the issue which is essentially its primary reason for being). So, it’s fair to say that it’s a major priority.
If the Charter becomes law, Jewish doctors, lawyers, teachers, judges, police officers, government officials (need I go on?) will be forbidden to wear visible symbols that openly flaunt their religious beliefs.
But the law goes even further. Organizations that receive public funding from the Quebec government will also have to comply. Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, for example, could no longer serve kosher food, nor could its doctors wear yarmulkes while treating patients. One PQ candidate even proposed to do away with the “Jewish” in the hospital’s name.
2. Who will this law affect?
The Jewish General Hospital in Montreal // Wikimedia Commons.
According to the latest National Household Survey (2011) there are currently 85,100 Jews living in Quebec, the majority of whom live in the Montreal area. Jews are the fifth-largest religious group in the province; Catholics are first, followed by Protestants, Muslims and Christian Orthodox.
The older and more established Jewish community in Quebec is Ashkenazi and Anglophone — meaning their first language is English. Like their American counterparts, most arrived in Canada in the late 19th century or in the aftermath of the Second World War. The growing Sephardic community, largely French-speaking, immigrated to Quebec from North Africa (in large part because of language) in the 1960s and 1970s.
Why the emphasis on language? Welcome to Quebec. Language groups retain singular importance in a region where political and social affiliation depends largely on which language you were brought up speaking. The one thing that most Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews can agree on, however, is that they hate the Charter.
Opposition to the Charter makes for unlikely allies. Ethnic and religious minorities who might not otherwise agree — Jews and Muslims among them — have joined together in the face of a common perceived threat to their fundamental religious rights.
3. Many people say they will disobey.
Muslim women protest the Charter of Values in Montreal // Claude Robillard / Flickr.
Many Jewish groups have openly declared that they will flout the Charter of Values if it becomes law. The Jewish General Hospital in Montreal released a statement in November declaring it would publically defy the law, which its staff views as “patently discriminatory.” Others have found more creative ways to protest the dreaded kippah ban: one rabbi stamped his head covering with the blue-and-white Fleur-de-lys — the province’s flag and symbol of nationalism. “I thought this would be a great way to make a positive statement,” Rabbi Yisroel Bernath told the Forward in December. “They want to ban the kippah? Let’s put a kippah on our heads!”
Protesters call for the release of Jonathan Pollard / Getty Images
So I check the homepage of the New York Times on Thursday afternoon, as I regularly do several times a day, to see a prominent story proclaiming that all the talk of freeing convicted spy Jonathan J. Pollard is dividing American Jews. “More and more American Jews say Jonathan J. Pollard should be freed, but they are unsure whether he should be used as a chit in a diplomatic transaction with Israel,” said the tout on Mark Landler’s story.
Gee, I think, maybe my editorial on this subject — which was pointed and, to some degree, contrarian — might be mentioned.
Wrong. Evidently, in the Times and in so many other venues, only men get to speak for “American Jews.”
It was my first shiva call, and it shocked me out of my wits.
Sarah, one of the residents in the Jewish retirement community where I’d been conducting seminars on world news, had passed away. A cheerful lady in her 90s, she had always brought an international aspect to our weekly discussions. I loved her. She was the kind of grandmother I always wished I’d had.
On the day of her funeral, I wore my kippah and stood with the mourners during the service at her son’s home. Afterwards, I spoke to the family members. I talked about my experiences with Sarah and about how proud she had been of her three grandsons and their achievements as musicians, writers and filmmakers.
I had met two of them before, and was impressed by their dedication to their art and their love for their grandmother, who had lived in various countries before coming to the U.S. So, after many conversations about Sarah, and after eating some traditional foods, I wanted to talk to the three sons. I asked their mother whether it would be all right if I went to join them in the basement.
“No problem,” she said, and down I went into one of the finest rec rooms I had seen, dominated by an oversized, cream-colored couch, with the lights dimmed down. The three sons — all in their 20s and early 30s — and their girlfriends, were idling on the plush family sofa. None of them got up when I walked in. They just waved, and one of the sons said, “Come and join us!”
I thought they might be watching a documentary in honor of their grandmother, or a film about Israel.
To my disgust, they were watching porn.
The Tamar drilling natural gas production platform near Israel / Getty Images
It’s now a week since the scheduled start of one of the most important energy deals in Israeli history. But the signing was called off, hasn’t been rescheduled since, and now, uncertainty hangs over the future of the deal.
Australia-based Woodside Petroleum was due to sign in Jerusalem on a 25% stake in Israel’s Leviathan natural gas field, for $2.7 billion. But Woodside clashed with the Israeli government over money, and the signing didn’t take place.
The dispute between Woodside and Israel centers around the complicated formula that will determine how much the company pays in taxes, and how quickly it will start to profit from its investment. There are further elements to the dispute, including guarantees and infrastructure.
The Israeli legal system just got its teeth back.
Much has been written about the conviction this week of Israel’s Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a bribery trial. The reverberations of the ruling are felt far and wide.
In the political sphere, this seems to be the end of the dream which continued to linger among some Israelis that Olmert would make a political comeback soon and complete the peace deal with the Palestinians, which some say was tantalizingly close when scandal forced him from office.
But one of the most important ramifications is in the legal, not political, realm. Israel’s state prosecution was humiliated at the end of last year, when it lost its much-anticipated corruption case against politician Avigdor Lieberman.
The Jerusalem Post’s latest editorial wades into the Israel-U.S. debate over travel visas — and comes to some absurd conclusions.
The government of Israel has been trying for a while to reach an agreement with the American authorities allowing Israeli tourists to visit the U.S. for a short time without a visa. The U.S. has always refused to grant Israel such an agreement, despite the fact that most Western nations, including European countries, Australia and New Zealand, already enjoy it as participants in the Visa Waiver Program.
The American government recently explained why Israel’s request was denied: “The Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program,” State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said March 21.
Protestors call for Jonathan Pollard to be released from prison. / Getty Images
Jonathan Pollard — the man who stole huge amounts of intelligence and gave it to Israel and has been sitting in an American prison for 30 years — has become a chip to be traded in order keep Israeli-Palestinian talks going.
Pollard is a very divisive figure: he has staunch supporters who believe that, for humanitarian reasons and because he helped beleaguered Israel, the three decades he’s spent in jail is enough. Others believe that because he was traitor who, allegedly, also tried selling intelligence to other states, he isn’t even an Israeli patriot; he was simply greedy.
Pollard has taken on a larger role in the drama of Israeli-Palestinian talks. In return for extending negotiations, according to reports, the U.S. will release Pollard and Israel will release 400 Palestinian prisoners and quietly freeze (some?) settlement building (excluding in Jerusalem). There is, rightly, a lot of disbelief about this plan. Jeffrey Goldberg thinks it means the talks are close to collapse and won’t do much in the end, anyway. Michael Cohen thinks releasing Pollard to extend talks is just stupid. I share their skepticism, but wonder if there is something more going on here. Perhaps it’s not a sign of the breakdown in talks, but a sign of their seriousness.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s not at all clear things are going well. The reported deal extends talks into 2015 — another nine months from now. Who knows what new international crisis might develop in that time to distract the Obama Administration from the Israeli-Palestinian arena. John Kerry might simply be too exhausted to keep up the pace. Spoilers in Israel or in Palestine could undermine popular support and political will. Meanwhile, the American rush to placate Benjamin Netanyahu on every issue has led to such an imbalance in talks that it wouldn’t be a surprise if the whole edifice fell over by then.