Feb. 14, 2007 - About 200 or so anxious school children, dressed in bright red Valentine's Day colors, circled the courtyard at Joseph Sibilly Elementary School Wednesday to receive a special valentine: classroom supplies from a very young benefactor.
Almost a teenager, George Pollack is on St. Thomas to celebrate his coming of age. Jewish boys become a bar mitzvah (Aramaic for "son of the commandments") at age 13, a rite of passage into adulthood. At this stage in his life, Pollack will take on the responsibilities of adulthood — morally, spiritually and ethically.
He will become a bar mitzvah Saturday in a ceremony at the historic St. Thomas Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in continuous use under the American flag.
On Wednesday, however, things took on a lighter note as the young Pollack performed a mitzvah, or a good deed, for the school.
In a short talk, the bespectacled serious-looking youngster told the students what he was doing, and why. He was brief and to the point.
"I am Jewish," Pollack said, "and when a Jewish boy turns 13, he becomes a bar mitzvah. He performs a good deed. I go to a small school in New York and you are a small school, too, so I thought I should help you."
Dressed in a cheery red-and-white polka-dot outfit, Sibilly principal Dora Hill thanked George and his family and presented him with a certificate of appreciation, as George's parents, Lisa and Martin, along with his twin brothers, Adam and Benjamin, and sister, Eve, looked on.
At Hill's instruction, students fetched several large boxes of supplies. "It's pencils, paper, calculators, CDs, education software, learning tools," George said. "Oh," he added, "and a digital camera, but that's coming tomorrow."
And, at Hill's instruction, the children gave George a hearty "Thank you," which rang out over the sun-filled courtyard.
Alexandra Laing, co-chair of the Hebrew congregation's social action committee, said, "We sent George a wish list from the school, and he picked out the items he could give." This is not the first time a youngster has celebrated his coming of age by donating to a St. Thomas school. Last year a Chicago family helped out Jane E. Tuitt Elementary School.
And it's not the first time youngsters from the states have come to St. Thomas for their bar mitzvah, Laing said. "About 20 bar mitzvahs are performed at the synagogue each year."
Laing said that George's mother had written her in December that the youngster wanted to help an organization on St. Thomas. The family is familiar with the island, having spent sailing vacations here for years. (George said later the first time he was on St. Thomas, "I must have been three months old.")
Laing said she "threw out a number of options," and George decided to help the Sibilly students. She added that Sibilly is the congregation's unofficial adopted school.
Speaking later, George and his family talked about traditional bar mitzvah events. Lisa Pollack said George had decided on coming to St. Thomas and using his bar mitzvah gift money for the school, instead of the customary big party.
Many stateside families, she said, are now forgoing the elaborate and costly bar mitzvah parties, in favor of traveling to St. Thomas to make the ceremony more significant in the synagogue, which is so steeped in history. And, she said, "The synagogue here is more beautiful than any in New York."
The Pollacks said about 45 friends and family will be here this weekend for George's ceremony at the synagogue. George said he has also given gifts to his own school in New York. He said he was happy doing that, instead of having a big party. "They are loud," he said. "You just sit around, and I don't find it fun."
Though a very serious-seeming young man, George (who bears a likeness to Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame) confided there are a couple things he will find fun when he grows up.
"I want to be a famous lawyer or a baseball player," he said. George is a Mets fan. If he follows a baseball career, he said he will be a pitcher. With a big smile, he said Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax is his hero. Lots of seventh-graders don't even know of the Brooklyn-born Hall of Famer.
As the Pollack family left the courtyard, all sporting big smiles, Hill invited them back to visit "any time, any time at all."
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