Seder Conducted at Illinois Prison on Behalf of Imprisoned Pollards
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Seder Conducted at Illinois Prison on Behalf of Imprisoned Pollards

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A group of 15 rabbis and members of the Jewish community of St. Louis from all branches of Judaism participated in a Passover “freedom seder” in front of the maximum security federal prison here on Monday, in support of convicted spy Jonathan Jay Pollard and his wife, Anne.

The seder, led by Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, N.Y., began with a brief ceremony on the front steps of the historic Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, where the landmark Dred Scott case was argued in 1946.

From there, the group crossed the Mississippi River in a motorcade to the federal prison at Marion, which has been described by Amnesty International as the strictest and harshest in the U.S. prison system.

Weiss spent three hours earlier in the morning visiting with Pollard, who is serving a life sentence for passing classified information to Israel. Weiss was refused permission to provide Pollard with a seder plate or matzot.

“All my adult life, I have found myself standing in front of Soviet missions and embassies to demand that the Soviet Union let our people go,” Weiss said. “I never dreamed that I would be standing in front of an American institution asking the U.S. to release a Jewish political prisoner.”

The “mini-seder” was conducted on a card table set up just outside the large steel gates leading to the prison grounds.

“We call upon people of good will and moral conscience to join with tens of thousands throughout this great land in raising their voices to ask the U.S. government to let Anne and Jay Pollard go,” Weiss said at the seder table. “Let them go so that they can leave the country and settle in Israel, which is their dream.”

Weiss said that when told of plans for the freedom seder on his and his wife’s behalf, Pollard said the ceremony “dispelled his sense of loneliness and isolation.


“Just the knowledge that a group of rabbis and others from the St. Louis area, who represent tens of thousands of constituents on the outside, creates a unity of souls. We may be separated from Jay physically, but spiritually and emotionally we are one with him and with Anne Pollard.”

Weiss broke a matzah at the conclusion of the seder ceremony and left it at the prison gate as a symbol of support for Pollard’s freedom.

“We see this freedom seder and similar happenings around the country as a means of moving the wheels of legal and political justice and to raise the voices of moral conscience in order that justice for the Pollards in the form of their release can be achieved.”

The ceremony at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis was attended by Pollard’s parents, Dr. Morris and Molly Pollard of South Bend, Ind., where Morris Pollard is professor of microbiology at Notre Dame University.

At the courthouse, Rabbi Aaron Borow of Nusach Hari B’nai Zion Congregation in St. Louis said, “We call upon the U.S. government to extend clemency and release Anne and Jay Pollard.

“This is the season of Passover, the season of freedom, when the Hebrew slaves were freed from the bondage of Egypt. Here on the site where Dred Scott argued for his freedom, we are asking for freedom for Jay and Anne Pollard.”

Scott, a slave who had lived in Missouri, a slave state, was taken to Wisconsin, a non-slave state. He sued for his freedom, but the Supreme Court rejected his case in 1857, in a major turning point in the struggle to free the slaves prior to the Civil War.

Anne Pollard, who is serving two five-year sentences as an after-the-fact accessory to her husband, is at a facility in Rochester, Minn., where she is suffering from a digestive disorder.

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