Zack Pollack, 22


Born premature with cerebral palsy, a quadriplegic who has used a wheelchair most of his life, Pollack briefly thought of becoming a psychologist, but had no concrete career goal … until he underwent lifesaving surgery eight years ago.

The 10-hour operation, to correct a curvature of his spine, was followed by a yearlong recuperation period, during which he decided to become a motivational speaker.

After the recuperation period, “I had more appreciation for life,” he says in the living room of his family’s home in Passaic, N.J. “I felt I had a purpose — I wanted to inspire people.”

Pollack, a graduate of nearby Emerson High School (he was honored as the top student in media/journalism) who studies Torah three times a week at Yeshiva University (his goal is to earn rabbinical ordination), reviews his lessons by Skype with a learning partner and takes some adult education courses, and has developed a busy speaking schedule. His venues include public, private and parochial schools, companies and charitable organizations; his family drives him in an adapted van.

“I want to teach people that they should be thankful for every day,” Pollack says.

“I speak about miracles,” he says. Citing his own story, he delivers a message in favor of inclusion and against bullying — he’s been the victim of bullying. Like many people with CP who have undergone speech therapy, he speaks slowly, distinctly, enunciating each word.

Pollack tells the story of a disabled boy who bullied him on a school bus a few years ago. He explained how painful bullying is; the boy stopped bullying. “We became friends,” Pollack says.

Giant friendship: At a Make-a-Wish event a few years ago that featured several football players from the New York Giants, the Pollack family established a close friendship with Markus Kuhn, a German-born, 300-pound defensive tackle who recently signed with the New England Patriots. Kuhn’s given Pollack a signed helmet, and a personal tour of the Giants’ stadium. “He comes here for dinner,” Zack’s father says.

Visit to Israel: Pollack got to see Israel, a longtime wish, on a month-long tour sponsored by the OU’s Yachad Yad B’Yad program. “I liked going to the Kotel (Western Wall) most of all,” he says. “When you go to the Kotel, Hashem’s right there with you.”