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Abe Pollin, Wizards’ owner and major philanthropist dies at 85

Abe Pollin, the owner of the Washington Wizards and a prominent Jewish philanthropist has died. He was 85.

Pollin might not have been the best owner of a basketball team but as ESPN said: "Pollin will be remembered for several things. He was the NBA’s longest tenured owner. He was the guy who fired Michael Jordan. And he was the person who changed the name of his team from the Bullets to the Wizards after his friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was killed."

He is also noted for all of the work that he did in reviving the southern part of DC, as the  Washington Post said about him in an editorial:

He did well here, and he did a lot of good in return. He made a fortune in construction but became better known as the owner of Washington’s pro basketball team. And while he hadn’t had a champion in a long time, he accomplished something far more important for Washington sports fans: Rather than taking teams out of this town, he brought them here. He built, first, an arena on the Beltway and then the one downtown that has contributed greatly to the renaissance of a neighborhood rich in history and tradition.

So, yes, Abe Pollin gave basketball and hockey to the nation’s capital. And, yes, he built his teams a place to play that in turn helped revive the city. But all that tends to cast him in the role of sports owner as titan. That’s not what he was, any more than he was the sports owner as meddler, tyrant or rootless fortune-seeker. He was a thoughtful and public-spirited man whose list of charitable and civic activities — helping feed and educate the city’s schoolchildren, aiding the homeless, establishing a prize for pediatric research, and much, much more — was as impressive as his work for mutual understanding and respect among the people of this region. Much of his life was a sustained effort, with his wife, Irene, to better the community, and for the most part it was carried on without a great deal of public attention.

Though he did not often receive attention for his Jewish charity, Pollin was a major contributor to Hillel, a member of its International Board of Governors, and he spearheaded the reconstruction of the historic Sixth and I synagogue in downtown DC.

From B’nai B’rith Magazine:

Pollin says the principles of Judaism, which include the tikkun olam mission to repair the world, guide him in all of his charitable causes.

President Bush holds a Torah during a tour with synagogue officials. President Bush (center) holds a Torah during a tour with synagogue officials of Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C. Abe Pollin was instrumental in rescuing and restoring the building.

In 2002, a project with religious resonance was the object of Pollin’s generosity when he joined two other Jewish developers from the Washington area in the rescue and restoration of a century-old former synagogue. The distinctive domed and stained-glass-imbued structure stands near Washington’s Chinatown, an area that at one time was the hub of Jewish life in the nation’s capital, and coincidentally is right around the corner from the Verizon Center.

For the previous half-century, the building had housed a church. Now it was about to be sold, with the purchaser planning to open a nightclub. Pollin learned of the pending sale literally the night before it was finalized.

"The next day, [we] put up $5 million and … bought it, and retrieved it from being a nightmare," Pollin says.

Today, the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue offers a variety of educational and cultural programs; provides worship space to fledgling congregations; and helps preserve part of Washington’s Jewish heritage.

"Abe Pollin is one of the most genuine supporters of Jewish life in Washington [and] … in a particular time and place, this [building] was very important in that Jewish life," says Craig Sumberg, executive director of the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. "Now the adjoining area is undergoing revitalization-a rebuilding of residential and commercial life – much of it due to Abe Pollin, and we hope to be a part of that."

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