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Local sports legends honoured at gala

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Roy Salomon has been dubbed “Mr. Maccabi” for his 50 years of leadership with the Jewish sports movement, first as an athlete and then as a volunteer with the Canadian, North American and international organizations.

Tommy Bacher and Jeff Bukantz, presidents of Maccabi Canada and Maccabi USA, respectively, said that Salomon has brought distinction to Maccabi through his passion and positive influence, while always exhibiting humility and dignity.

“You meet someone of his character once in a lifetime,” said Bukantz, who praised Salomon for the encouragement he has given young athletes over the decades. Bacher, who was on the Canadian softball team at the 1985 Maccabiah Games in Israel, was one of them.

“He saw something in me,” said Bacher. “I was one of the thousands he pushed to be all they could be.”

Bukantz, a former Maccabiah and Olympic fencer, and Bacher, a Toronto physician, came to Montreal to present Salomon with a lifetime achievement award on behalf of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (IJSHF) on April 7. The ceremony was held during the 15th annual Sports Celebrity Breakfast, which benefits the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors Foundation.

Salomon is only the second Canadian to receive the lifetime achievement award since it was created in 1992. It is bestowed to one individual each year. The first was Sidney Greenberg of Toronto, who, like Salomon, is a past president of Maccabi Canada.

Salomon, a New Yorker who played varsity basketball at Duke University in North Carolina, competed in the eighth Maccabiah in 1969. Since then, he has held numerous posts in the movement, as well as at Montreal’s YM-YWHA, of which he is the honorary president.

“I feel blessed,” said Salomon. “The bottom line is: it’s all about friendship, being with people you like and doing a job for your community.”

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The IJSPHF – which opened in Netanya, Israel, in 1981 – recognizes outstanding Jewish athletes from around the world.

Salomon’s advice to athletes is to be a role model to the young, “whether you want to or not.” He held up the late Montreal Canadiens great Jean Béliveau, who twice served as chef de mission of the Canadian Maccabiah team, as an example, recalling the interest he showed in each of the athletes.

As usual, the breakfast was sold out, with close to 600 guests in attendance. Co-chairs Mike Wagen and Bram Naimer announced that $300,000 for “seniors in crisis” was expected to be raised.

Ultimate Fighting Championship superstar Georges St-Pierre, who retired in February, was the recipient of the sports personality of the year award, and former Montreal Expos player, coach and manager Felipe Alou – who was clearly a sentimental favourite with the audience – was given the Expos baseball legends award.

Considered the top mixed-martial arts welterweight of all time, St-Pierre was named the Canadian athlete of the year three times.

St-Pierre, who grew up in the small town of St-Isidore, Que., recalled that it was Victor Zilberman, the legendary wrestling coach, who recognized his talent early on. He said that he owes his success to training with Zilberman for more than 15 years at the Montreal Wrestling Club at the YM-YWHA.

Alou, 84, was the first Dominican-born manager in the major leagues when he got the job with the Expos in 1992. He led the team to its best season in 1994, when it was robbed of its World Series hopes due to a strike.

Alou, who managed the team until 2001, still thinks of Montreal fondly and said he believes that Major League Baseball will return to the city. However, he stressed that a stadium must be built before any club will move here.

Alou was joined by businessman Mitch Garber, a key figure with Stephen Bronfman in the effort to bring the MLB back to Quebec. Garber said that studies are being done on a downtown location for a new ballpark.

The Larry Fredericks media award recipient was veteran sports journalist Michael Farber, who wrote for the Montreal Gazette and Sports Illustrated for many years, and was a commentator for CJAD radio. He can now be heard on TSN 690.

The New Jersey native who has lived in Montreal for 40 years was lauded for his literary and erudite writing by his former colleague, Gazette sports columnist Herb Zurkowsky.

The award was established by Mike Cohen, the charity event’s vice-chair and MC, in memory of his father, Lawrence Frederick Cohen, a longtime sports writer and broadcaster who died six years ago.

The guest of honour was Tony Loffreda, vice-chair of RBC Wealth Management and a prominent figure in local charities.

The breakfast attracted a large number of sports personalities, including: Stephen Adekolu and Ernest Jackson of the Montreal Alouettes; Kevin Gilmore, president and CEO of the Montreal Impact; Donald Fehr, executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association; player Michael McCarran and assistant coach Alex Burrows of the American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket; former WBA boxing champ Otis Grant; and sports agent Allan Walsh, an ex-Montrealer who represents Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin.