Sports HOF Renews Mission, Shifts Model

in the Rodeph Shalom sanctuary accented with dark wooden structures, Marc Zumoff, a bald, white man in a suit, is standing at a podium addressing the hall of fame inductees on either side of him.
Retired Sixers announcer Marc Zumoff (center) hosts last year’s Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sept. 29, where both the 2020 and 2021 classes were honored. | Photo by Paul Joslin

The Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame is hoping for a stirring come-from-behind victory in the coming months, following a 2021 filled with ups and downs.

PJSHOF is revamping with a new organization model, prioritizing an updated website and a series of community events that will complement the hall of fame’s annual induction ceremony.

The organization’s board convened in December under the leadership of new chair Steve Rosenberg, former chief operating officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Former chair Stephen Frishberg left the position in October after a decade-and-a-half of leading the hall.

According to Rosenberg, a renewed presence of the hall will continue the mission of highlighting the accomplishments of Philadelphians and Jews in the world of sports. 

“[Sports] really is something that brings people together, and there are great Jewish athletes, men and women, across all sports,” Rosenberg said. “When you can induct a Jewish fencer or a Jewish rower and put the spotlight on these people … that’s great for our city and our region.”

The changes to PJSHOF’s model will help build a more permanent and foundational support for the organization after its home in the basement of the Jewish Community Services Building was flooded with 7 feet of water on Sept. 4 in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

“We have this one big event,” Rosenberg said, referring to PJSHOF’s annual induction. “And we get a good crowd of a couple hundred people, but every year we’re starting over with a new audience.”

PJSHOF aims to hold five to eight events around the community in 2022, in addition to the induction.

“Rather than have people come to a museum, the museum is going to come to them,” said Carl Cherkin, the hall’s head of events subcommittee, 2020 PJSHOF inductee and an Emmy Award-winning sportscaster.

By bringing a speaker, such as Olympian and lacrosse player Bonnie Rosen, and memorabilia, such as Dolph Schayes’ 76ers jersey, to a local community center, more people would have the opportunity to learn more about a sports history replete with Jewish protagonists, but one that is often not well-known.

“There’s a rich athletic culture emanating from Philadelphia that so many kids are so into today,” Cherkin said. “So many people are in the hero worship to begin with, they don’t stop to think they had their own heroes, their own Maccabees.”

Rosenberg hopes to hold the first PJSHOF event of the year in February with an audience of a couple dozen people interested in sharing their experience at the event with friends and family, who will, in turn, attend future PJSHOF events.

In hopes of attracting more traffic to the hall’s website, Rosenberg hired a new website developer, who has worked with Fortune 100 companies, to improve the website’s search engine optimization and marketing, as well as incorporate more videos on the homepage.

“We’re going to spend some money on having a lot more video, so that if you click on any inductee, you’re going to actually hear from them,” Rosenberg said.

Instead of finding a new campus for all of PJSHOF’s memorabilia, the hall will work with surrounding organizations, such as the Kaiserman JCC, to have a smaller physical presence in multiple locations.

In its previous locations in the Jewish Community Services Building and the Gershman Y, the hall attracted little foot traffic, Rosenberg said.

A pile of trophies, plaques and jerseys are piled into an open cardboard box.
Following the Sept. 4 flood of the Jewish Community Services Building in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, the surviving memorabilia from the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame were packed up, restored and placed in a warehouse. | Courtesy of Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame

Additionally, the hall’s memorabilia is unable to be displayed and is being housed in a warehouse, where it is drying off. Most of the objects were saved and restored after the flood, but some of the paper artifacts were permanently damaged.

Because the basement of the Jewish Community Services Building was not covered by insurance, neither were the damages to the hall’s memorabilia.

PJSHOF launched a GoFundMe page in September to raise money for restoration of the memorabilia and the rebuilding of a potential home for the hall. Through the GoFundMe, as well as a handful of philanthropic gifts, including one from businessman and Sixers-superfan Alan Horwitz, PJSHOF raised $50,000. Estimated costs to fully restore the memorabilia will cost at least $70-80,000, Rosenberg said.

While the money was instrumental in helping the hall maintain a presence in Philadelphia, Rosenberg emphasized that the organization needs to become self-sufficient. 

“We really have to come up with some real revenue opportunities for ourselves and figure out what the next few years are going to look like,” Rosenberg said.

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