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Alan Sherman, champion of Jewish sports and US-Israel relations, dies at 87

JTA — In 1961, Alan Sherman was working as a pharmacist at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem when he saw an advertisement in The Jerusalem Post for English-speaking volunteers for the sixth Maccabiah Games, the international Jewish sports competition founded in 1932.

Sherman spent weeks driving the director of the event’s organizing committee to various ceremonies. His willingness to help was emblematic of his passion for sports and what would become a lifetime commitment to strengthening opportunities for Jewish athletes, particularly through US-Israel relations.

Sherman would go on to co-found and lead the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and serve in numerous leadership roles with Maccabi USA and the global Maccabiah movement. Sherman died Saturday at his home in Potomac, Maryland, after a long battle with cancer. He was 87.

Jed Margolis, who now heads the hall of fame, called Sherman a “visionary.” The hall honored Sherman with a lifetime achievement award in 1997.

“He left an indelible mark on the hearts of so many, and we will miss him dearly,” Margolis told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Much of Sherman’s work in sports came with the Maccabiah movement.

The Greek delegation at the opening ceremony of the ninth Maccabiah in 1973. (Alexander Suskind/Maccabi Archive)

From 1973 to 1989, Sherman served on the International Maccabiah Committee. He led several US delegations to the quadrennial Maccabiah Games, spent decades in leadership with Maccabi USA, founded the North American Maccabi Youth Games (now known as the JCC Maccabi Games) and in 1985 helped introduce the Jewish-Israel orientation program for all American Maccabiah athletes.

Jeff Bukantz, the president of Maccabi USA, called Sherman a “larger-than-life leader” and a mentor.

“Alan was one of the pillars of the Maccabi Movement and he leaves a lasting legacy. May his memory be a blessing,” Bukantz said in a statement to JTA.

Sherman’s involvement with US-Israeli sports partnerships extended beyond Maccabiah. In 1978, Sherman organized an Israel trip for the NBA champion Washington Bullets, who played (and lost) an exhibition game against Maccabi Tel Aviv. Sherman also arranged for Israeli professional teams to play games in the US.

Sherman’s other passion project was supporting athletes with disabilities, particularly through the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled.

On a local level, Sherman was involved in numerous DC Jewish organizations, including as chair of the physical education committee and a board member of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington. According to an online obituary of Sherman, during Israel’s Yom Kippur War in 1973, he launched the “swim a lap for Israel” initiative, raising thousands of dollars for the Rockville, Maryland, JCC and other community pools.

A licensed realtor and experienced pharmacist, Sherman also enjoyed a number of sports, including skiing, volleyball and golf. He is survived by his wife Claire Feldstein, whom he married in 1962, as well as their two children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.