Daniel Weiss is Jewish, but he’s not very religious. For him, Judaism is “a sense of family and culture,” he said.
So when the Kaiserman JCC board of directors member came up with a way to celebrate that sense of family and culture, he wanted to move on the idea. The longtime JCC Maccabi soccer coach’s idea was a hall of fame honoring many of the great Philadelphia-area athletes who have competed at the games over the years.
In February, when Weiss pitched the plan to Kaiserman CEO Alan Scher, the CEO did not say “yes.” He said “when.”
Weiss said he would put together an inaugural induction ceremony in just a few months.
On June 16, it will happen at the Wynnewood facility. The outdoor event will feature corn hole, most of the 13 inductees in the flesh and former Philadelphia 76ers announcer Marc Zumoff as emcee.
The inaugural class is going to include two or three times as many athletes, teams and contributors as a normal class will in the future, Weiss said. He said you need a big first class to establish the hall.
Among the inductees are David Groverman, who “basically financed” the first Philadelphia team for the JCC games in 1984, Weiss said; Rose Weinstein, who has coached girls and boys tennis teams for more than 35 years; and Devon Polak, a swimmer who earned 31 medals in JCC Maccabi competition. Teams are also on the list, like the 2002 boys soccer squad that did not allow a goal during its entire gold medal run.
The JCC Maccabi Games are an international competition for Jewish athletes between the ages of 13 and 16. The Philadelphia area sends teams in soccer, basketball and tennis, among other sports.
Kaiserman has long served as the headquarters for the local delegation, as most of the athletes are from the Main Line and Bucks County, according to Weiss.
“If you have a good idea, why wait?” Weiss said. “Let’s build it.”
Scher agrees with that sentiment. He has promised to commit to the hall as a regular feature of the JCC. There is no designated room yet in the Wynnewood facility, but Scher and the board are exploring options.
In the future, Weiss wants to see something like his high school sports hall of fame at Harriton High School, which he is in for his exploits in soccer, football and track. Harriton’s hall showcases pictures of the athletes and descriptions of their high school careers.
“People will come in and see, ‘Hey, my cousin’s in the hall,’” Weiss said. “It gives people a sense of connection.”
Weiss is taking the same why wait approach to the construction of the hall as he did to the initial ceremony. He hopes to have it done by the winter.
More than 100 people are signed up to attend the June 16 induction, so Scher expects interest to remain strong. And if that ends up happening, the JCC will be able to build a display around the annual event that it can add to “year after year after year,” he said.
Since taking over last July, Scher has tried to figure out the JCC’s business model around camp, preschool and assorted fitness activities. He thinks the hall can be part of that vision.
“Our hope is we’re not only celebrating a culture, but we’ll continue to engage the alumni,” he said of JCC Maccabi competitors. “We see them as important leaders associated with the Maccabi experience, and this will be a vehicle for that.”
And there should be no shortage of future inductees. Weiss said the four-man selection committee, which includes both Maccabi and Kaiserman leaders, whittled a large field down from 100 nominations to 30 to 20…and finally to 13. But many worthy names were left out of the inaugural class.
There also will be new names to add. This year’s squad will feature five teams — hockey, boys soccer, girls soccer, boys basketball and girls basketball — and 62 athletes. The 2022 JCC Maccabi Games are set for July 31-Aug. 5 in San Diego.
“Most of our teams expect to compete and be in the mix,” said Marc Swarbrick, a Kaiserman JCC board member and hall organizer alongside Weiss.
And if they do, they may just be able to come back and reflect on the experience years later.
“This is something you can do as a Jewish person and be involved in the community and represent your community,” Weiss said. JE