Tag Archives: Zionist

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: Martin Buber

Father of Spiritual Zionism

Mordechai Martin Buber (1878-1965) was born in Vienna to a religious Jewish family. His parents got divorced when he was just three years old, so Buber was raised in what was then Poland by his grandfather. Despite growing up in a richly Hasidic home, Buber began reading secular literature and returned to Vienna as a young man to study philosophy. Around the same time, he became active in the Zionist movement and soon became the editor of Die Welt, the main newspaper of Zionism. It wasn’t long before Buber became dissatisfied with the secularism and “busyness” of Zionism and returned (partially) to his Hasidic roots. He saw in Hasidic communities the right model for a new Israel, and a better alternative to the entirely-secular kibbutz. Buber ultimately saw Zionism not as a nationalist or political movement, but as a religious movement that should, first and foremost, serve to spiritually enrich the Jewish people—along with the rest of the world. He would later be credited with being the father of “Hebrew humanism” and “spiritual Zionism”. In 1908, he was invited to address a group of Jewish intellectuals known as the “Prague Circle”, and to “remind them about their Judaism”, as the group’s leader had requested. Among the members of the Circle was (former Jew of the Week) Franz Kafka, who was greatly influenced by Buber. During World War I, Buber established the Jewish National Committee to provide relief for Jews, especially those suffering in Eastern Europe. Throughout all these years, Buber wrote penetrating works on a vast range of themes, including philosophy and psychology, mythology, mysticism, and Hasidism. He co-produced a new translation of the Tanakh into German, and published his most famous essay, “I and Thou”. In 1930, Buber became a professor at the University of Frankfurt. He resigned in protest three years later when Hitler came to power. The Nazis forbade Jews from participating in public adult education classes, so Buber founded the Central Office for Jewish Adult Education. In 1938, he made aliyah and settled in Jerusalem, becoming professor of anthropology and sociology at the Hebrew University. Several years later, he was a founding member of the Ihud party, which prioritized making peace with neighbouring Arabs and worked to establish a bi-national state. Buber was nominated for a Nobel Prize a whopping 17 times (ten times for Literature, and seven times for Peace), though he was never awarded one. He did win the Israel Prize and the Bialik Prize, among many others. Today, the 13th of Sivan, is his yahrzeit.

Words of the Week

The real struggle is not between East and West, or capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda.
– Martin Buber

Jew of the Week: Eliezer Ben-Yehuda

The Man Behind Modern Hebrew

Eliezer Yitzhak ben Yehuda Leib Perlman (1858-1922) was born in what is now Belarus to a religious, Yiddish-speaking, Chabad family. Before his bar mitzvah he was already recognized as a genius in Torah and Talmud. While studying to become a rabbi, Ben-Yehuda was first exposed to some of the Hebrew works of the medieval Sephardic rabbis (such as Ibn Ezra) who wrote poems, stories, and even textbooks of Hebrew grammar. Meanwhile, he came across contemporary, secular (Haskalah) literature written in Hebrew, most notably a Hebrew-only Zionist newspaper called HaShahar. This sparked a passion for languages in general, and Hebrew in particular. Ben-Yehuda plunged into the study of the grammar, history, and development of Hebrew, and also started learning Russian, German, and French. He soon realized the tremendous power of language, and that the only thing truly uniting all Jews around the world—whether Ashkenazi or Sephardi, religious or secular—was Hebrew. In 1877, Ben-Yehuda moved to Paris to study medicine and Middle Eastern history at the famous Sorbonne University. While sitting at a café one day, he met a fellow Jew who started speaking to him in Hebrew. This was the moment that convinced Ben-Yehuda that it was possible to turn Hebrew into a common, spoken language. While some Zionists (like Herzl himself) initially sought to make Yiddish or even German the official language of what would be the Jewish State, Ben-Yehuda knew that it had to be Hebrew. Upon graduating in 1881, he made aliyah and settled in Jerusalem. Ben-Yehuda taught at the Torah and Avoda School, where he devised his immersive ivrit b’ivrit system of learning. He spent the rest of his time writing and developing the language. He founded the Hebrew Language Committee (still operating today) to dig up ancient Hebrew words and to coin new words for modern phenomena, based primarily on ancient Biblical, Aramaic (often Talmudic) terms, as well as from Arabic roots. Ben-Yehuda coined words like glida (“ice cream”), ofanaim (“bicycle”), magevet (“towel”), and rakevet (“train”) using Biblical roots for similar terms. Meanwhile, he wrote for the Havatzelet newspaper, edited the Hashkafa newspaper, then launched his own periodical, HaTzvi, where he would introduce his new words (such as iton, “newspaper”!) He published the first dictionary of Modern Hebrew, a whopping 11-volume tome (later expanded to 17 volumes). Ben-Yehuda raised his children strictly in Hebrew. His son, Ben-Zion, is considered the first native speaker of Modern Hebrew. Some people inaccurately state that Hebrew was a “dead” or “extinct” language before Ben-Yehuda and the Zionists. This is, of course, completely inaccurate since Hebrew has always been used by Jews throughout the centuries, particularly in prayer and for the writing and teaching of holy texts. What Ben-Yehuda did was systematize Hebrew, adapt it to modern times, and transform it into a commonly-spoken tongue, as historian Cecil Roth summed it up: “Before Ben-Yehuda, Jews could speak Hebrew; after him, they did.”

The Kabbalah of Yom Ha‘Atzmaut

Words of the Week

For everything there is needed only one wise, clever and active man, with the initiative to devote all his energies to it, and the matter will progress, all obstacles in the way notwithstanding… In every new event, every step, even the smallest in the path of progress, it is necessary that there be one pioneer who will lead the way without leaving any possibility of turning back.
– Eliezer Ben-Yehuda