Philanthropist Geraldine Merican Polinger supported secular and Jewish causes

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Geraldine Merican Polinger Photo provided

Geraldine Merican Polinger, born in Baltimore in 1922, died on May 4. It was her 97th birthday.

She joins her beloved husband of 66 years, Howard Polinger, who died in 2007. As philanthropists, Geraldine and Howard supported both secular and Jewish causes in the Washington metropolitan area and Palm Beach, Fla., both as individuals and through the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation.


The Excellence in Arts and Humanities Award from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County in 2005 celebrated their numerous contributions to cultural arts. They sponsored the Artists of Excellence Concert Series at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington since the early 1970s, bringing to Washington such rising artists as Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Yo-Yo Ma.

Geraldine’s chairmanship of the JCC Music Committee culminated with the Woman of Valor Award. Her family foundation established the ongoing popular region-wide Jewish Music Festival at the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center 20 years ago. A college music major and dance enthusiast, Geraldine was keen to endow scholarship programs at her alma maters: in dance at Goucher College and in piano at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins.

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The couple also helped to make the arts more accessible to youth, supporting programs at THEARC in Southeast D.C. Howard and Geraldine were founding members of the Kravis Center in Palm Beach and substantial donors to the Strathmore Center and Round House Theatre in Bethesda.

Geraldine served on the Board of the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County for several years and she and her husband were recognized in 2007 for their long-term support of that institution. Within the Jewish community, Geraldine and her husband were
committed to supporting diverse needs of people, agencies and communities.


Geraldine served on the board of the Jewish Social Service Agency, where she and her husband endowed the agency’s adolescent treatment program and later were recognized for their outstanding leadership in social welfare with the Joseph Ottenstein Award. The couple additionally endowed a medical equipment fund at Hebrew Home, established a residence for the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes and served as a key contributor to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

In her earlier years, Geraldine was an activist and advocate for social causes. As a young woman in the 1940s, she participated in marches and boycotts addressing racial discrimination, served as spokeswoman for a newly created government labor union and helped pioneer the groundwork that ultimately founded the Americans for Democratic Action.

Social consciousness, humility and generosity continued to be her guiding values. She tutored children in reading and over her lifetime was a gracious benefactor to a full array of local charities. She was an avid reader and enjoyed singing in her synagogue choir. An only child herself, she took joy in loving her children, grandchildren and great- grandchildren.
Geraldine will be lovingly remembered in the hearts of her four children, Arnold (Diane) Polinger, Jan (Richard) Chavis, Lorre Polinger (Donald Wertlieb and David (Amy) Polinger; and her nine grandchildren, Jennifer (Sean), Renee (Andy), Joshua (Rebecca), Julie (Zach), Mollie (Evan), Steven, Miriam (Ernest), Becka (Keller) and Charlie. She also leaves behind 17 great-grandchildren.

Donations may be made to Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington — Polinger Concert Series, Jewish Federation of Greater Washington — targeted to vulnerable populations, or Southern Poverty Law Center

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