Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Jonathan Jay Pollard Spy Case

A Bullied Boy

Jonathan Jay Pollard was born on August 7, 1954 in Galveston, Texas. His father, Dr. Morris Pollard, was a microbiologist. His mother, Molly Pollard, was a homemaker. He was the youngest of three children. Harvey was the oldest and Carol was the middle sister. The family soon began calling their youngest son by his middle name.

When Jay was very young, the family moved to South Bend, Indiana so his father could take a position at Notre Dame University. Dr. Morris Pollard would later recall that he experienced not a whiff of anti-Semitism at the Roman Catholic institution. Rather, he and his family were always made to feel welcome.

Neither Galveston, Texas nor South Bend, Indiana boasted large Jewish communities but the Pollards were deeply involved with the Jewish groups in their areas. The family made a special effort to instill a powerful sense of Jewish identity in their children. The parents were devoted to the cause of Israel and impressed their love for the Jewish homeland upon their youngsters. The Pollard children learned about the Holocaust at a young age and grew up knowing that the Nazis had slaughtered some 70 of the family's European relatives.

The Pollards were affluent and lived comfortably in a ranch-style home in a little cul de sac. Jay was close to both parents, especially his mother. He was also, to some degree, "parented" by his older brother and sister. He was a precocious youngster upon whom his whole family doted. Musically talented, he learned to play the cello and became quite accomplished at it.

School was a different story. He made excellent grades but outside his family, young Jay was disliked by other children. He was frequently picked on. On a daily basis, Jay was teased and taunted and often physically assaulted by his fellow students. Why? There are several possible reasons. The boy was short for his age. He also wore glasses. Children can be notoriously cruel to "shrimps" and "four-eyes." Additionally, Jay was obviously bright and envy of a smart kid or "teacher's pet" often sparks school-age persecution.

Yearbook photo of Jonathan Pollard
Yearbook photo of
Jonathan Pollard

Finally, the boy was Jewish in an area that had few Jews. Jay blamed this factor exclusively for his being the target of so many taunts. This solidified his interest in, and love for, Israel, the country where Jews could be "normal."

In 1967, when Jay was 13, several Arab countries attacked Israel. The teenager was devastated. It seemed impossible that the little country could hold out against so many enemies. "They're going to kill Israel!" he sobbed to his mother. "I'll never get to see Israel." Molly assured him that Israel would survive.

When Jay woke up the next morning, he found out that what would become famous as the Six-Day War was over and Israel had won. The lad was overjoyed. "Then I'll get to see Israel!" he shouted.

Thirteen was also the age for Jay's Bar Mitzvah, the ceremony that traditionally marks a Jewish boy's ascent to manhood. A boy gives a speech at his Bar Mitzvah and Jay took the subject of his speech from Isaiah and the message that Israel will be a leader among nations. The rabbi at their synagogue was not a Zionist and discouraged young Jay from speaking on that theme.

The family changed to an Orthodox synagogue. There, Jay gave the Bar Mitzvah speech he wanted to on the subject dearest to his heart.

The Pollard family visited Europe the following year, 1968. This was a pivotal experience for Jay. He went to Dachau. He saw the palpable evidence of anti-Semitism at its most extreme: the barbed wire, wooden barracks, and crematoria. He was emotionally overpowered. Like so many Jews, he came away with an extra determination that "Never again!" would such a horror befall his people. Israel, he deeply believed, was the key to making sure of that.

Map of Israel (AP)
Map of Israel (AP)

In 1970, Jonathan Jay Pollard traveled to Israel as a member of a science camp for gifted students. Jay loved what he found and saw there. He would recall the trip as "one of the most liberating experiences I have ever had in my life." When his parents visited him, his mother found him "in heaven." Even there, however, others saw Jay having difficulty getting along with his fellow teenagers.

Jay had long fantasized about immigrating to Israel. When he returned home, he was more determined than ever to make that dream a reality. His family did not counsel against it but urged him to wait until he had completed his education and could take some marketable skills to the Jewish state.

1972 yearbook photo of Jonathan Pollard
1972 yearbook photo
of Jonathan Pollard

The young Pollard was accepted into California's prestigious Stanford University. He originally signed up for a pre-medical program, planning to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Harvey, who had become a doctor. However, Jay found the course load daunting and soon switched to political science. He became known for his great interest in, and increasing knowledge about, military history. He adored spy novels and read hundreds of them.

As a college student, he spun romantic fantasies about himself, probably patterned after some of the plots in his beloved spy stories, which he earnestly tried to convince his listeners were the truth. The stories always involved Israel. He told his friends that he held dual citizenship in the United States and Israel (he did not). Pollard variously claimed to be either a captain or a colonel in the Israeli army. He confided to a buddy that he was a secret agent for the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad. At that time, Mossad had never heard of him. Seeming genuinely terrified, he told fellows in his dorm that some Israelis were out to kill him. He showed a revolver to other students and said he needed it to protect himself. At one point, he told other Stanford students that, while guarding a kibbutz, he had killed an Arab.

One thing he did not do at Stanford was join Hillel, the primary Jewish students' organization, or any other organized campus Hebraic group. He remained a loner. 1976, Pollard graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Political Science. He returned home to South Bend to attend Notre Dame's law school. After a few months, he quit. The other law students, Jay believed, "are just interested in making money. They are not interested in changing anything. I don't want to be a corporation lawyer."

Pollard won admission to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston. He attended for two years but did not get a degree. The young man suffered a continuing emotional crisis because of his feeling that he belonged in Israel and not America. However, he never felt that one loyalty precluded the other. The United States was necessary for Israel. "Israel grows basks in the sunlight cast by the American sun," he commented. While at Fletcher, he encountered people who sympathized with the Palestinian cause and they, naturally enough, made Jay's blood boil.

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