Tag Archives: American Jews

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: David Goldfein

Chief of America’s Air Force

General David Goldfein

David Goldfein (b. 1959) was born on an American Air Force base in France, where his father served as an Air Force colonel. Goldfein became a fighter pilot, too, and graduated from the US Air Force Academy with a degree in philosophy. He first saw action in the Gulf War, then served as commander of the 555th Fighter Squadron in the Bosnian War, and during NATO’s Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia. On one mission in 1999, Goldfein’s F-16 was shot down. He ejected on time and parachuted down in a field. Three Serbian soldiers pursued him, but he managed to escape, hiding in a ravine. Goldfein miraculously traversed an area full of mines, before later being rescued from behind enemy lines in a daring operation. All in all, Goldfein logged over 4200 hours of flying time. In 2011, he became a three-star general and was appointed commander of US Air Forces in Southwest Asia. In 2016, now a four-star general, Goldfein was appointed the 21st Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. That made him the highest-ranking official in the Air Force, overseeing half a million airmen, over 5000 aircraft, and hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles. As Chief of Staff, he directly advises the secretary of defense and the president. Goldfein’s primary goal as head of the Air Force was to ensure the US was secure from, and had detailed plans for countering, the “four-plus-one” threat: China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and violent extremist groups around the world. He also focused heavily on nuclear deterrence and preventing a catastrophic world war. Finally, he expanded the Air Force’s capabilities into the realms of cyberwarfare and space, too. It was during his tenure that ISIS was essentially wiped off the map and finally defeated, thanks in large part to the US Air Force. Goldfein has been decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit, Humanitarian Service Medal, and countless other awards. His term as Chief of Staff ends next week.

Words of the Week

Experience shows us that many people imagine false ideas to be absolutely true, and they generally remain firm in their beliefs, refusing to see anything wrong with them.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-1746), Derekh Tevunot 

Jew of the Week: Eric Garcetti

Mayor of Los Angeles

Eric Garcetti, mayor of LA (Credit: Emily Shur)

Eric Michael Garcetti (b. 1971) was born in Los Angeles to a Russian-Jewish mother and a Mexican-Italian father. He was always interested in civics and politics, and was a member of Junior State of America, an organization for high school students aiming to cultivate America’s future leaders. Garcetti studied political science at Columbia, then earned his Master’s there in international affairs. He was also a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and worked on his doctorate at the London School of Economics. After returning to the States, Garcetti taught at several colleges and sat on the board of California’s Human Rights Watch. In 2001, he ran for a seat on Los Angeles’ City Council, and won. Between 2006 and 2012, he was president of the council, and implemented important changes including a policy that all constituents must be answered within 24 hours. He led the way in passing new laws to clean up Los Angeles’ waterways, and to make all new buildings environmentally-friendly. During his tenure, graffiti in his district was reduced by 78%, housing got an injection of $100 million in funds, and the Hollywood neighbourhood was revitalized. In 2013, Garcetti won the race for mayor of Los Angeles, making him the city’s first elected Jewish mayor and its youngest mayor ever. He has become one of LA’s most popular figures, and won re-election in 2017 with a whopping 81% of the vote. He has been hailed for improving the city’s budgets, urban development, and immigration policies, as well as for increasing minimum wage and raising more funds for the LAPD and fire department. He has also secured LA as the host city for the 2028 Summer Olympics. Meanwhile, Garcetti is a devoted member of LA’s IKAR Jewish community. He and his wife have one adopted daughter, and have fostered seven other children. Garcetti was also a lieutenant in the US Navy Reserves until 2013, once lived in Thailand, and—together with relatives from his mother’s side of the family—oversees the Roth Family Foundation, which has given out over $6 million in grants and donations. He won the Green Cross Millennium Award for environmental leadership, and was NAACP’s “Person of the Year” in 2014. That same year, Bill Clinton said that Garcetti may be America’s president one day. There were rumours that he would run this year, but he decided to stick with his job as mayor for now. He is currently listed among potential candidates to be Joe Biden’s running mate.

An In-Depth Look at the Custom of Eating Dairy on Shavuot

Words of the Week

Woe to him whom nobody likes, but beware of him whom everybody likes.
– Hasidic proverb

Mayor Garcetti lighting Chanukah candles and putting on tefillin. (Credit: COLlive)