Tag Archives: Hadassah Medical Centre

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: Henrietta Szold

Founder of Hadassah, Mother of Israel

Henrietta Szold

Henrietta Szold

Henrietta Szold (1860-1945) was born in Baltimore, the eldest of eight daughters. After finishing high school, she became a teacher, and while working at both an all-girls school and a Jewish school, she was also taking additional studies at Johns Hopkins University. Soon, she opened up her own night school to assist Russian-Jewish immigrants and teach them English. After some 15 years as a teacher, Szold became the first editor of the Jewish Publication Society (famous for its JPS Tanakh, and now the oldest non-profit publisher of Jewish literature in English). Over the next 23 years at this position, she translated multiple Hebrew books into English, edited many others, wrote countless articles, and helped to produce the popular Jewish Encyclopedia, as well as Marcus Jastrow’s well-known Talmudic Dictionary. Meanwhile, Szold pursued advanced studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary (America’s leading Conservative Jewish academy). At the time, these studies were reserved only for men, but Szold managed to persuade the school president to let her in. In 1898, she was elected to the executive committee of the Federation of American Zionists, the first woman on the board. Her devotion to Zionism became even greater when she took her first trip to Israel in 1909. Three years later, she founded Hadassah, an organization that worked to establish a proper health care system in Israel – for both Jews and Arabs. Under Szold’s leadership, Hadassah helped to create some of Israel’s very first dental clinics, maternity clinics, food banks, medical schools, nursing programs, and at least half a dozen hospitals (Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Centre is still one of the largest hospitals in Israel). Today, Hadassah, or the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, is one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world, with over 330,000 active members serving to support health education, women’s rights, freedom of religion, and the State of Israel. Among her many other accomplishments, Szold co-founded the Ihud political party, and played a key role in Youth Aliyah, an organization that rescued over 30,000 Jewish children from the Nazis. Today, many institutions are named after her (including a public school in Manhattan), and Israelis celebrate Mother’s Day on her yahrzeit, the 30th of Shevat. Szold passed away in the Jerusalem hospital she helped to found, and was buried in the nearby Mount of Olives. She was recently inducted into America’s National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Words of the Week

… there is no ending that is not a beginning.
– Henrietta Szold