Category Archives: World of Sport

Jews in the World of Sport

Jew of the Week: Deni Avdija

The NBA’s Next Big Star?

Deni Avdija
(Credit: Maccabi.co.il)

Deni Avdija (b. 2001) was born in Kibbutz Beit Zera in Israel to a Serbian-Muslim father and an Israeli-Jewish mother. His father was a professional basketball player who had moved to Israel to play for Ramat HaSharon, and then several other clubs. The elder Avdija fell in love with the country and people, and settled in Israel permanently. Deni grew up playing basketball, too, and joined the youth club of Maccabi Tel Aviv when he was 12. At just 16, he signed with Maccabi’s senior team, making him the youngest player ever in the Israeli Basketball Premier League. He went on to win three championships with the team. In the last season, he was the league MVP—setting another record as the youngest player ever to win that prize. He was also the MVP at the European Basketball Without Borders tournament in 2018, and the MVP at the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Global Camp last year. Avdija earned yet another MVP at the Under-20 FIBA European Championships last year, when he led Israel’s team to the gold. (Though he is eligible to play for Serbia, he has chosen to represent his birth country Israel on the international stage.) After spending a few months with the IDF this past year while basketball was on hold due to COVID, he was drafted by the NBA’s Washington Wizards and signed a rookie contract. He made his NBA debut in a preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets, making a huge splash with 15 points and 2 assists, and going 100% in field goals and threes. The announcer at the game called him the “Mensch off the Bench”, to go along with his other title, “the Israeli sensation”. Some predict he may become the NBA’s next big star. Avdija recently did a public menorah-lighting during Chanukah. He hopes to highlight his proud heritage in the NBA, and to show all “the great things about Israel”.

Words of the Week

When sheep have no leader, they huddle together and imitate each other out of fear. And I’m not talking about sheep.
– Rabbi Aharon Feldman

Jews of the Week: Irene and Abe Pollin

The Couple that Brought Sports to Washington, D.C.and Saved Lives

Irene Sue Kerchek (1924-2020) was born in St. Louis, Missouri. She met her future husband Abraham “Abe” Pollin (1923-2009) when she was just 17. The couple married and settled in Washington, D.C. Abe worked for his father’s construction company before he and Irene started their own business in 1957. Together, they built a prosperous real estate empire, raising up both affordable and subsidized housing projects as well as luxury properties. The Pollins went on to found and own the NBA’s Washington Wizards team, the NHL’s Washington Capitals, and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, working hard to bring those three clubs to the city. They also built the Capital Center and what is now Capital One Arena (formerly the Verizon Center), and were credited with reviving Washington’s downtown core. In 1963, the Pollins lost their teenage daughter to heart disease, and Irene lost both of her parents to heart disease that same year. She fell into deep depression and, when nothing seemed to help her, decided to go study psychology and social work herself. She went back to university and earned two degrees. Pollin opened two pioneering therapy clinics, and wrote two acclaimed books on mental illness and counseling. Her greatest mission in life, however, was to combat heart disease. In 2008, she donated $12 million to Brigham and Women’s Hospital (of Harvard) to establish a heart wellness program. In 2012, she donated $10 million to Hadassah Medical Center in Israel to create a heart health institute, and another $10 million to do the same at Johns Hopkins University. The following year, she gave another $10 million to establish one more heart health centre in Los Angeles. After discovering that more women died from heart disease than from breast cancer, Pollin started a number of organizations to increase awareness of female heart disease and to get more women screened on time. The most famous of these organizations is Sister to Sister: The Women’s Heart Health Foundation. Through their efforts, and the screening clinics they set up across America, the lives of countless women have been saved. The Pollins were generous philanthropists and gave millions more to many other causes, including Washington’s Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, the National Symphony, and research into brain disease, which ultimately took the life of Abe Pollin. The Pollins had a summer house in Rehovot, Israel, and were close friends of Yitzhak Rabin. It was Rabin’s assassination in 1995 that was the major reason why they renamed their Washington Bullets basketball team to the Washington Wizards (the new name was selected in a public contest). Irene Pollin also sat on the National Cancer Advisory Board, to which she was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986, while Abe Pollin was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame as the longest-serving owner of an NBA franchise (46 years). Sadly, Irene Pollin passed away last month at the age of 96.

Words of the Week

If you were born with a healthy heart, keep it that way.
– Irene Pollin

Jew of the Week: Alan Veingrad

The Super Bowl Champion Who Keeps Kosher

Alan Stuart Shlomo Veingrad (b. 1963) was born in Brooklyn and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. He went to Hebrew school as a child, then to Miami Sunset High School where he was captain of the football team. Veingrad was also an All-American track and field athlete. He went to what is now Texas A&M University on a sports scholarship. In 1984, he was voted the Lone Star Offensive Lineman of the Year. Despite working out round-the-clock and gaining over 100 pounds he was still considered too small for the NFL and went undrafted in 1985. Still, he was able to sign with the Tampa Buy Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent. The following year he signed with the Green Bay Packers and played on the starting line up as a right offensive tackle. In 1991 he signed with the Dallas Cowboys and was instrumental in helping the team win Super Bowl XXVII in 1993. After earning his championship, Veingrad retired from professional football. Since then, he has worked in real estate and finance, as a motivational speaker, and an AIPAC advocate for Israel. One Friday, his cousin invited him for Shabbat dinner, which lit a spark inside him. Veingrad then went to a Torah class to learn more, and soon found new meaning in life. He eventually became fully Torah-observant, and has since been called the “only Orthodox Jew to wear a Super Bowl ring”. He has traveled around the world to share his story, and also made an excellent series of 1-minute Jewish motivational videos, called Shlomo’s Playbook. Veingrad was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010 and was the NYPD’s Person of the Year in 2012.

Words of the Week

The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct Palestinian people to oppose Zionism…
Zuheir Muhsin, member of the PLO Executive Council, in a March 31, 1977 interview with Dutch newspaper “Trouw”.