Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Two songs for Jonathan Pollard

Jonathon Pollard's Israeli PassportRecently I started paying more attention to Jewish contemporary political songs. The first set I looked at focused specifically on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Today I want to look at two songs about Jonathan Pollard. Pollard has been a cause célèbre among a segment of world Jewry for the last 20 years or so after being sentenced for passing classified material to the Israeli government. The reason for his celebrity is two-fold. First, he claims that he only provided information to Israel that was critical to its security and that the US had pledged and failed to provide. Second, his sentencing was considered overly harsh. He is still serving a life sentence for a crime where, according to JonathanPollard.Org "[t]he median sentence for the offense Pollard committed - one count of passing non-injurious classified information to an ally - is two to four years." There are lots of complications and counter claims made about this case (see wikipedia for a rundown), but the bottom line is that Israel and members of world Jewry still remembers Pollard and lobby for his release. And they write songs about him.

The first song I want to show is "Justice Denied" by Dovid Kerner. Kerner is an American Jew who plays a Bob Dylanesque folk-rock guitar. Kerner really hits his stride when stridently mixing details of topical issues and Biblical images. Here's a section of lyrics from "Justice Denied" that picks up Pollard's public justification in terms of ancient enmities. The image is possibly a bit overstated, but clearly shows how Kerner and many Jews view Pollards incarceration.
Well, the Gulf War came and soon the bombs would rain, but you know we were prepared
As in days before, spreading blood by the door, awaiting the wonders that we all would share
We knew what to expect, we had a peak in the deck, because the deed was done
If it was Esav's hand it was Yakov taking his stand
You know there's nothing new under the sun.
Dovid Kerner's 'Justice Denied'

Justice Denied is not merely descriptive. Kerner starts with the rallying cry of "Jonathan Pollard sits in a cell, and what are we doing about it?" and concludes with "So sharpen those pencils, crank up your phones and plug in those fax machines. We can't be only for ourselves, our brother's crying for help." This is the full treatment from a singer passionate about Pollards defense.

Dovid Kerner's Bond of LoveJust a quick side note, Kerner's album "Bond of Love" is worth a listen if you groove on the late 60's Dylan sound. To my taste it leans a bit heavy in that direction and the album has a few real duds on it. That said, though, the album has some fine moments, Justice Denied being only one of them. I'm particularly fond of Kerner's narrative songs including Pillar of Fire, Justice Denied, Thirteen Jews, and Ballad of Ruth & Naomi. Definitely worth a listen. You can learn more about Kerner and hear each of the songs at his website,

The second song is "Lonely Prisoner" by Yair Gordon, a Jew from South Africa. While Gordon has the same political outlook that Kerner has, he uses a different lyrical approach. Instead of the strident call to action, Gordon gently conjures sympathetic images of Pollard in jail.
"Lonely prisoner,
Sand runs through your fingers, days run through the bars,
And you sit... and you wait.

Lonely prisoner,
Has your hope turned bitter, lost faith in those you saved?
Still, you sit... and you wait"

Yair Gordon's 'Lonely Prisoner'

Gordon also includes a line of Hebrew that I take for granted comes from a Biblical source or Talmudic source. Even for folks like me who don't understand the Hebrew, the use of the Hebrew phrase serves to remind us that Pollard is also a Jew and should be treated like a brother. While Kerner is direct and Gordon is evocative, both have the same goal. They use Jewish images and motifs to move and motivate the listener. You can find out more about Gordon, read the full lyrics of "Lonely Prisoner" and hear his other song "Captured Brothers" at his website.

UPDATE: I just got the following note from Hasidic Musician of the Blog in Dm...

"The Hebrew in Yair Gordon's song is the first half verse of Isaiah 35:10. The King James translation is " and the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs..." (I would probably translate the last word of the phrase as joyous celebration rather then "songs").

UPDATE II: I just had a nice email exchange with Yair Gordon who wanted everyone to know that while he used to live in South Africa, he made Aliyah and is now happily in Israel. He also asked me why, if I'm a Jew, do I live in a Christian farm town. I wish I had a better answer than "because I do." But that's about it. The nearest city, Ann Arbor, has a small but vibrant community but for a variety of reasons my wife and I chose not to live there. Maybe someday we'll move to an area with vibrant Jewish life. We'd like that. But we're not there yet.


Yair said...

Jack, as I said in my email, thank you for helping to raise our awareness about Jonathan Pollard. Every day that he's not home, every day that he languishes in US jail, we are liable to forget about him and about the great self-sacrifice that he made for the welfare of all Jews, and specifically the Jews in Israel.

May Jonathan Pollard, along with all other Jewish captives, including Gilad Shalit, be released from captivity into freedom, and from darkness into great light, very very soon.

PS I've also written a song about the captured soliders of the IDF, specifically Gilad Shalit, and Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev of blessed memory. You can find it on my site

Dovid said...


You describe what could possibly be going on in Jonathan's mind during his excruciating ordeal in a most poignant way. Beautiful song. May your effort to make his case known in this way assist in his speedy release.

Dovid Kerner