WASHINGTON (JTA) — Abe Pollin, a longtime supporter of Israel and Jewish causes, has died.
Pollin, best known as the owner of the Washington Wizards basketball team and its arena, the Verizon Center, died at his home in Bethesda, Md., following a battle with a rare neurological disease, corticobasal degeneration. He was 85.
Along with serving on the boards of AIPAC, Hillel and The Israel Project, he also was involved in numerous philanthropic activities outside the Jewish community.
Pollin was an activist for Soviet Jewish refuseniks in the 1970s and ’80s, pressing the issue in meetings with government leaders and in other venues.
More recently, Pollin was one of three Washington real-estate developers in 2004 who bought and restored the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, the former home of the Adas Israel synagogue, before it could be turned into a nightclub. The facility is now a magnet for the city’s younger Jews, sponsoring Jewish and cultural programming.
The synagogue is in the same neighborhood Pollin revitalized when he built the Verizon Center.
Pollin changed the name of his basketball team from Bullets to Wizards as a statement against gun violence after the assassination of his longtime friend Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
President Obama saluted Pollin in a statement Wednesday.
"Abe believed in Washington, D.C., when many others didn’t — putting his own fortune on the line to help revitalize the city he loved," he said. "He was committed to the teams he guided, generous to those who needed it most, and as loyal to the people of D.C. as they were to him."
"Abe was a longtime leader of AIPAC and giant of America’s pro-Israel community," ther American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement. "As a member of AIPAC’s board of directors and friend of many of our country’s most influential policymakers and elected officials, Abe never missed an opportunity to stress the importance of America’s special and unbreakable bond with the State of Israel."