Maccabi USA Legend Bill Steerman Dies at 86

William Steerman
William Steerman (Courtesy Suzin Levy)

William “Bill” Steerman, a longtime Philadelphia attorney who was among the chief architects of Maccabi USA, died Fed. 5. He was 86.

Steerman grew up at Third and Catherine streets in Queen Village in a house that would be known in later years as Dmitri’s, the popular Greek restaurant that recently closed after 30 years.

In Steerman’s childhood, the family lived upstairs, while his mother ran a luncheonette downstairs.

“And he loved going (to Dmitri’s) — it’s really kind of funny,” said his daughter Suzin Levy, noting the irony of the restaurant closing and her father dying almost contemporaneously.

Steerman would go on to Central High School before enrolling at Temple University, where he became part of the men’s varsity soccer team that went undefeated and won a national championship in 1953. That entire team was inducted into the Temple Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009.

“He was better at working with athletes than being a stellar athlete on the soccer field,” Levy said, recalling how she and her father would joke about the little game action he actually saw.

But for Steerman, it wasn’t the playing time, or lack thereof, that mattered; the values instilled in him as a Temple athlete shaped how he’d live the rest of his life.

“He was always part of a team, he was always a team player,” Levy said. “He believed his days at Temple made him value team effort, devotion to a cause, fair competition and sports as a common denominator in fostering and developing personal relationships.”

Steerman excelled at connecting people and causes through sports, his daughter said. And it was through sports that Steerman cultivated what would become a vast network of personal relationships that would last throughout his adulthood.

“He took what he learned from playing sports,” Levy said. “And he parlayed that into longstanding relationships with the people who would go on to build Maccabi USA.”

Steerman’s nearly six-decade relationship with the Maccabi Games began in 1964 when he was named the national vice president of the United States Committee Sports for Israel, now known as Maccabi USA. He continued in that position through the 1993 summer games.

His Maccabi work led him to be honored by the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame as a Pillar of Achievement.

But Steerman wasn’t the type of executive to watch the proceedings from a suite far from the action. Each Maccabi Games, he managed to find himself in the thick of it all.

In 1965, he chaired the games’ soccer committee and was also an assistant coach for the U.S. team; he led U.S. delegations to the Maccabi Pan Am Games in Mexico and Brazil, in 1973 and 1977, respectively; he chaired Jewish heritage programs for athletes from different nations so that they might discover the strength of their common bond; he chaired housing, transportation and security committees. He literally did everything but lace up his cleats for an officially sanctioned run around the pitch — all while running his law firm back in Philadelphia.

“He really felt so, so connected to helping athletes and to the Maccabi International Organizational Committee,” Levy said. “And even to the bitter end, he always did things for the state of Israel and Maccabi — it was his life.”

It wasn’t his whole life, though, Levy said. The father she referred to as a “Renaissance man” loved the music of Glenn Miller, ski trips with the boys, the fine arts and his glass-encased fishbowl of a home that Levy said resembled the house from Billy Joel’s “Glass Houses” album cover.

Situated on top of a hill, the house was perched above the woods overlooking Mill Creek Road in Gladwyne. “It was essentially a big tree house,” Levy said. He liked living among tall trees, she said — and he especially liked watching the birds perched in the morning while he ate breakfast.

A lifelong learner, he studied painting as an adult and even had a few pieces displayed in local galleries.

“In the last few years,” Levy said, “he was really able to open up and become more abstract. It wasn’t easy for him, but he worked hard at it. We were really proud to see his work in a gallery.”

Steerman was proud to be Jewish and loved that Maccabi USA afforded him the chance to meet Jews from everywhere.

“He forged and bonded with people who were Jewish, who were all different colors, and they all studied the same book — that was what he loved,” Levy said. “He really loved being Jewish.”

Steerman is survived by his wife, Louise (née Lipitz) Steerman, his sons Craig, David and Roger Steerman, and his daughter, Suzin Levy. His sister Doreen Safier also survives him, as do eight grandchildren.

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