The Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame has had a tough year-and-a-half.
In 2020, the pandemic forced the hall to cancel its annual induction ceremony. Now, after Hurricane Ida flooded the Jewish Community Services Building on Sept. 2, the hall is temporarily homeless.
But come Sept. 29, the organization will, at long last, have something to celebrate.
Starting at 5:30 p.m. at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, two years’ worth of classes, 2020 and ’21, will be inducted. After missing last year’s ceremony, the museum wanted to honor eight legends of Philadelphia Jewish sports instead of the usual five.
The 2020 class consists of Emmy Award-winning sportscaster Carl Cherkin, former Bucknell University basketball standout Bryan Cohen, ex-Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Erskine Mayer, former Philadelphia Eagles owner Jerry Wolman and Carol B. Polis, the first female professional boxing judge.
The 2021 class includes discus Olympian Samuel Mattis, ex-NFL player Steve Shull and former NCAA fencing champion Adam Feldman.
A trio of awards will also be given out that night: The Philadelphia Sports Spirit Award to Alan Horwitz, a passionate, front-row fan of the Philadelphia 76ers; The Pillar of Achievement Award to William Yale Saltzman, the founder of Camp Canadensis and the first Jewish football captain at Franklin & Marshall College; and The Simon Gersh Award to the Junior Jewish Basketball League, the Montgomery County-based intramural league that has run for 35 years.
Retired Sixers announcer Marc Zumoff, a class of 2011 inductee, will host the event. Every hall of famer and award winner has a Jewish background and a connection to Philadelphia, according to hall Chairperson Stephen Frishberg.
“The recipients are thrilled and humbled when I call,” said Frishberg, referring to the calls he made to inform people of their selections.
The RSVP list backs up the chair’s claim. Every living inductee plans to attend.
Wolman died in 2013, but a family member will represent him at Rodeph Shalom. Mayer died in 1957, and Frishberg had trouble tracking down a family member for him. But the chairman and board of directors agreed that the old righty, who posted a 2.96 career ERA, deserved a spot in the hall.
Living class members are not just excited about their selections; they are excited to come to the ceremony, too.
Cherkin, a retired television reporter for Philadelphia’s Fox affiliate and a founding executive of the MLS’ Philadelphia Union, said he views the honor as recognition of his life’s work.
Cohen, who was an Abington Friends standout before Bucknell, said the achievement was “surreal” because he grew up playing basketball in the area. He’s also still only 32.
“That I got inducted at such a young age means a lot,” he added.
Polis was appointed as the first female pro boxing judge by the governor of Pennsylvania in 1973. She called that the biggest honor of her career … until now.
The Jenkintown native, who judged 27 title fights in nine countries, is traveling from Florida for the ceremony.
“It takes a lot of guts to walk up those steps and get into the ring,” she said of why she loves boxing.
Even though the COVID era continues with the delta variant, the hall of famers will not give their acceptance speeches to an empty sanctuary/virtual audience. About 125 Philly sports community members and fans have bought tickets for the event, according to Frishberg.
All attendees will be required to show vaccination cards at the door and wear masks while inside. Rodeph Shalom’s sanctuary can hold up to 1,500 people, so attendees can social distance if they want, Frishberg said.
Frishberg is confident that the hall can pull off a COVID-safe event and start a new winning streak.
“We’ll bounce back,” he said. “It’s just a process.”
After the induction ceremony, the process will turn back to the harsh reality of the day-to-day.
Since the hall was in the basement of the Jewish Community Services Building, it saw 7 feet of water rush in during the Sept. 2 flood. Physical cabinets, televisions and lockers were all lost, Frishberg said.
But the artifacts can all be cleaned and remediated, he said, so the hall will try to do that.
Frishberg and the board need a new location and about $30,000 to rebuild the tribute to Philadelphia’s Jewish sports icons.
The hall has a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $36,000: gofundme.com/f/help-rebuild-our-museum. You can also call 215-900-7999 to buy tickets to the ceremony.
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