Imagine life confined to a wheelchair, dependent on others for all your daily needs and activities. Then add to this picture this very same wheelchair situated in Yeshiva University’s Glueck Beit Midrash, surrounded by the spiritual energy of hundreds of other RIETS students, immersed in Torah study, engaged with two learning partners in preparation for the Talmud lecture to follow. This is the palette that emerges when speaking about the hero in our midst: Zack Pollack.
Zack Pollack of Passaic is a wheelchair-confined young man of 22 whose life has been spent fending off the ravages of cerebral palsy since birth. His CP has left him a quadriplegic, without most of the function in his arms and legs. Zack was born three months premature on December 1, 1993, at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. He weighed in at 1 ½ pounds and remained in the hospital for three months. As a young child he underwent several surgeries and then again, as a teenager in 2008, he underwent a risky 10-hour surgery which left him with life-threatening aftereffects. Miraculously, he survived, but more than that, he survived with a life-changing realization. “Life isn’t just about living; it’s about living with a purpose. If you believe in your strengths, your weaknesses will disappear and your strengths will prevail.”
With this mantra in mind, and with deep emunah in Hashem, Zack Pollack has embarked upon an amazing journey of spreading inspiration to individuals and groups who are fortunate enough to meet up with this true “hero in our midst.”
Zack graduated from Emerson High School in Emerson, NJ, in June of 2015, where he was honored with the annual award for the top student in media/journalism. He currently attends the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University. Monday through Wednesday find Zack at the Glueck Beit Midrash with his two chavrusos,Yosef Penner and Sam Dratch. Following morning seder they resume after lunch in the shiur of Rav Hershel Schachter where they are studying Masechet Sanhedrin. Zack’s aspiration is one day to obtain ordination as an Orthodox rabbi. In addition to the hours he spends learning at YU, Zack studies with an additional chavrusa, Mr. Elchanan Wiesenfeld, an hour each day through Skype. Zack’s formal Jewish studies background before bar mitzvah was limited to the Sundays he spent learning with the students at Yeshiva Ketana of Clifton-Passaic through the pioneering program of Mrs. Chashie Krupka.
In addition, Zack is heavily involved in his second passion—that of being a motivational speaker. Zack speaks to student audiences in yeshiva day schools, public elementary and high schools, colleges and universities, nonprofits, community groups, corporations, charitable organizations and fairs and festivals. He has served as the keynote speaker at the Chabad of Passaic/Clifton dinner and has even addressed the Passaic Board of Education at the invitation of the mayor. Among the Jewish schools that Zack has addressed are Frisch High School, Ma’ayanot High School, Bruriah High School, JEC Boys High School, Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, Torah Academy of Bergen County as well as Stern College, Manhattan Day School and Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls. The public schools include Barringer High School in Newark and Passaic Public Schools No.3 and 6.
“I am dedicated to inspiring people—particularly young people—and motivating them to be better human beings. As an observant Jew, I have a deep faith in God, as well as faith in the goodness and potential of people of all backgrounds, races and religions. I believe in the power of love and the importance of helping one another. Together as friends we can help make this world a better place for everyone.”
Whether speaking about building faith and compassion, the effects of bullying, or fighting for inclusion or wheelchair accessibility, Zack leaves his audiences awed and amazed by his focused, inspirational words. Testimonials flow in from elementary school students to Chabad rabbis attesting to his amazing lessons of faith and fortitude.
Zack is beloved by the HASC community where he spent many summers since the age of 8. Several years ago, HASC counselor Michael Celler volunteered to accompany Zack to Miami to “run” the half-marathon on behalf of the camp. Celler pushed Zach’s wheelchair 13 exhausting miles after which Zack stood up from his chair and walked to the finish line to receive his Gold Medal. Zack has also participated in two more marathons on behalf of Kids of Courage in both Miami and the Bahamas. Although he has “aged out” of HASC services, Zack hopes to attend the kollel on the grounds of the camp this summer.
How has the community reached out to Zack? The day he donned his tefillin, the students at Yeshiva Ketana threw an elaborate party to celebrate. His bar mitzvah celebration was truly an “event.” With music personality Avraham Fried at the helm, the simcha was truly a tribute to the inspiration that Zack infuses into his family and friends. The video of the celebration, called “ChaZack—A True Jewish Hero,” can be viewed on Zack’s website, www.zackplollack.com, under News and Press.
For Zack’s 21st birthday, throngs of admirers gathered at the Teaneck Doghouse to celebrate this heroic young man. Guests from HASC, therapists and educators joined family and friends in this festive tribute. When asked about one of his favorite accomplishments so far, Zack quips, “When I was recovering from my major surgery, two HASC counselors came to the hospital to be mevaker cholim. As a result of this meeting, they married. I even went down the aisle at their wedding. Now they are parents.”
Zack Pollack has been “blessed” with two outstanding and devoted parents. Barbara and Larry Pollack have focused their love and attention on Zack 24/7 from his birth. Their apparent pride in what Zack has achieved to date knows no equal. With the Pollacks at his side, Zack knows no bounds.
Zack Pollack invites the community to access his website at www.zackpollack.com, or call him at (973)472-6586.
By Pearl Markovitz