The Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood opened the JCC Maccabi Hall of Fame last year to honor Philadelphia area athletes, coaches and contributors who represented the region at the national JCC Maccabi Games.
The first class had 13 inductees, a big group designed to establish the hall. The man behind the effort, Kaiserman board member Daniel Weiss, said that future classes would be smaller.
The JCC revealed the 2023 inductees, and the group is a little smaller, but not by much. It includes nine new members because there are still so many worthy inductees, according to Barrie Mittica, the JCC’s director of engagement.
This year’s class includes volunteer and emcee Michael Barkann of NBC Sports Philadelphia fame, coach Keith Bradburd, coach Brian Schiff, swimmer Beth Adler, basketball players Aron and Bryan Cohen, baseball players Ryan and Conor Donavan, dancer Shelby Rosenberg, coach/chairman Bill Brody and player/coach Traci Brody and the 1984 boys’ basketball team that won gold in Detroit, the first Philly team to win gold at the JCC Maccabi Games.
The games are for athletes between the ages of 13 and 16. The induction ceremony will take place on April 2. JCC officials are hoping to unveil an exhibit for the hall of famers at the ceremony, one similar to the wall honoring Philadelphia Jewish sports hall of famers in a Kaiserman hallway.
Proceeds from the event will go toward scholarships for the next crop of JCC Maccabi athletes from the Philadelphia area. Mittica said the JCC is hoping to offer as much as $20,000 in scholarship money to local teens. She believes the experience is important for young athletes because they are often too busy playing sports to participate in Jewish activities with their peers, like a youth group or camp. The JCC games become their connection to Jewish peoplehood.
“It creates positive Jewish adults,” she said.
This year’s hall of famers speak to that experience.
The brothers Cohen, Aron, who went on to play at the University of Pennsylvania, and Bryan, who played for Bucknell University, participated in a combined seven JCC Maccabi competitions and won six gold medals. Aron Cohen said playing on those teams at a young age helped him develop a strong work ethic. They also helped him build connections that he would use later on in his business career. The brothers own Full Court Development, a real estate development company in Philadelphia.
“A lot of people I work with today come from that world,” Aron Cohen said of his JCC Maccabi connections.
Bryan Cohen said the brothers grew up playing one-on-one against each other, with the older Aron Cohen winning until the younger Bryan Cohen grew taller than him in high school. They also spent a year playing together at the Abington Friends School in Jenkintown, reaching the Friends Schools League championship with Aron Cohen at point guard and Bryan Cohen at forward. So to go into the hall together, after a lifetime of playing together, is just a cool experience.
“We put a lot of time and sacrifice in working out, being disciplined at basketball. It really paid off to play at different levels,” Bryan Cohen said. “It’s something you don’t think about when you’re young and working hard.”
Brian Schiff, a longtime boys’ basketball coach for the Philadelphia JCC team, described the games as a life-changing experience. In 1992, he was writing for The Jewish Times when he visited a JCC basketball tryout. He told the coach it looked fun. The coach asked him if he wanted to help. Schiff said yes and went to Baltimore with the team that year for the games.
The man who had never coached basketball before, and who admittedly did not know the Xs and Os, ended up coaching for the next quarter century. He was an assistant on that boys’ team for the next five years before taking over as head coach, leading the team to seven golds between 1998 and 2016. Schiff also assisted Philadelphia Jewish sports hall of famer Steve Chadwin at Abington Friends for six years. Along the way, he learned the Xs and Os.
“It’s humbling; it’s a huge honor,” he said of his hall induction. “Getting involved was kind of an accident, and then it changed my life completely.” ■