The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame opened in 1981 and is located in the Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sports in Netanya, Israel.
It has more than 420 inductees, all of them Jewish athletic luminaries, though some more famous than others, like former Boston Celtics coach Arnold “Red” Auerbach, U.S. Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz and Detroit Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg. The most recent inductee was Sue Bird, the still-active WNBA star and women’s basketball legend.
The hall’s founding chairman, Potomac, Maryland, resident Alan Sherman, views it as the official repository for Jewish sports history.
And now Sherman is tapping an Exton resident, Brian Schiff, to replace him as the official repository’s gatekeeper.
Sherman, 85, retired in January after leading the hall for four decades.
“It was time to pass it on,” he said.
Sherman held various leadership positions with the international Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style competition for Jewish athletes, from the 1970s into the ’90s. During that period, Schiff coached the USA basketball team at the Maccabiah Games eight times.
The original chairman knew Schiff and, by the time he stepped down from the hall, he felt his old acquaintance would make a good replacement.
“I knew he had an interest in the hall. I knew he knew about sports,” Sherman said.
Sherman called Schiff and asked if he wanted the role, and the coach said he was interested. Schiff, 68, then talked it over with his wife, who thought it would be both prestigious and something he would enjoy. His wife, Susan Kardon, will also join him in the endeavor as the hall’s secretary/administrative assistant.
The new chairman still works full time, too, in the athletic department at the Abington Friends School. But he said he will make time for the hall.
“It’s like anything in life,” Schiff said. “Things you love doing, you make time.”
For the hall, this is a moment of transition in general, not just at the chairman level. Schiff is being joined on the leadership team by another Philadelphia-area resident: Jed Margolis, of Dresher, the hall’s new vice president.
As VP of the nonprofit organization, Margolis will lead the 15-person election committee for picking new hall of famers. The IJSHF inducts new members every year and holds a ceremony every four years at its Israel facility.
Margolis is replacing Joe Siegman, a California-based television producer who came up with the original idea for the hall.
The Dresher resident, now 70, retired four years ago after a 45-year career with Jewish Community Centers.
“This seemed like a natural next step,” he said. “I was looking for something that would have meaning and make a difference.”
Schiff and Margolis have worked together before, at the JCC Maccabi Games for Jewish athletes 16 and under. Schiff coached basketball, while Margolis helped organize the events.
“I know he’s smart, driven and committed to whatever task he takes on,” Margolis said of Schiff.
With the hall, Schiff’s and Margolis’ task is to keep it the same: to keep the inductions rolling and the website and facility operating.
Sherman said he left the organization in good shape, and the new leaders agree. But Sherman acknowledged that the hall needs to do more to enter the 21st century. And that, according to Schiff and Margolis, is the mission moving forward.
Schiff wants to start with the website, which, even more than the Israel facility, Sherman labeled as “the sole repository in the world for outstanding Jewish athletes.”
Right now, though, the site is just text and information. Schiff and Margolis want to make it more interactive with videos and pictures.
“To get people to want to go to it,” Schiff said.
After the website, Schiff hopes to focus on the Israel building. He recently spoke with a 2017 inductee, who said the facility, like the site, needs a 21st-century upgrade.
At the moment, it’s just exhibits and lists of names. Like its web home, the physical hall would benefit from more interactive elements, Schiff said.
“Something people would be interested in visiting,” he said.
Both foundational renovations, though, would cost “enormous amounts of money,” Schiff added. An amount beyond the existing $100,000 quadrennial cost to run the hall and hold the induction ceremony.
Schiff and Margolis are planning to host a Zoom meeting with board members this month to discuss this vision.
Both local men are committed to it.
“We just want to let people out there know that Jews have accomplished great things in the world of sports,” Schiff said.
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