More than a year after being flooded out of the Jewish Community Services Building in Center City, the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame has a new home at the Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood.
You will see the hall right as you walk in through the glass doors. The new decals showing Philadelphia Jewish sports luminaries like Philadelphia Eagles GM Howie Roseman, NBC Sports Philadelphia host Michael Barkann and Temple University coaching legend Harry Litwack line the walls of the main sitting area and two hallways leading to the gym.
Twenty-six years’ worth of classes and inductees are there, and there is plenty of room for more, according to hall chairman Steve Rosenberg. Two “very large windows,” as Rosenberg describes them, are available in the front lobby for future classes.
In an August Jewish Exponent story about the hall’s 2022 class, Rosenberg said it’s important for the organization to have a permanent home. He wanted people to be able to “take their friends and family and say, ‘There’s my name.’”
Now, they can.
“I wanted to be in the most public space possible so as many people as possible could see it,” Rosenberg said.
The space inside the Main Line JCC is more visible than the hall’s previous two homes. Since opening in 1997, the organization has lived in a corner in the Gershman Y and in the basement of the Jewish Community Services building. You had to go to it to see it.
But at the JCC, it does not matter if you are there for a basketball game, a swim or some other activity. You will not get there without a history lesson on Jewish sports in Philadelphia.
“I’ll say in the next year more people will know about the Jewish hall of fame than have ever known about it before,” Rosenberg said.
After you walk past the decals, inside the gym there’s a sign that reads “Future Inductees Playing.” Kaiserman CEO Alan Scher pointed to that sign when explaining why the JCC wanted to become the new home for the hall.
The Wynnewood institution hosts youth sports programs. It is “in the business of inspiring the next generation of Jewish athletes,” Scher said.
“There’s a real connection between these institutions, and that’s the reason it’s such a natural fit,” he added.
In addition to inspiring young athletes, the hall will likely partner with the JCC to host events. Scher mentioned a possible speaker series. He also said that Kaiserman would be interested in hosting the hall’s annual induction ceremony, which was held at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia the last two years.
“We see nothing but upside in collaborating with them,” Scher said.
Hurricane Ida flooded the basement of the Jewish Community Services Building on Sept. 2, 2021. Seven feet of water ruined physical cabinets, televisions and lockers, among other items, according to Stephen Frishberg, the hall’s chairman at the time.
Rosenberg said that more than 90% of the hall’s artifacts ended up in the trash. Some of them just washed away.
After the flood, Scher got a call from Rosenberg and Frishberg. They told him that they had been contemplating an expansion, and that the flood gave them the opportunity to do it.
Scher, who took over at Kaiserman in July 2021, was a new executive trying to figure out a business model for the Philadelphia area’s last true JCC on the Pennsylvania side. And he described himself as “over the moon with excitement” when they called. He felt like the hall was in line with the JCC’s programs and could add to the institution’s brand.
“I’m committed to bringing vibrancy to the JCC in any way I can, and this is a great way to do that,” he said.
Rosenberg then secured the funding to build a new display, and the organizations agreed on a fall unveiling date. There may be a ribbon-cutting at some point, but either way, the display is up.
On Oct. 16, the JCC will host a Sukkot festival with 500 to 700 people and more than 30 sponsors, according to Scher. He said the JCC will be “thrilled to welcome everybody to campus and show them the Jewish sports hall of fame.”
In September, more than 200 people attended the hall’s induction ceremony for its 2022 class. Rosenberg said he’s “still getting emails from people saying it was one of the best ceremonies we’ve had.”
“There was tremendous energy,” he added. JE