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Jewish-American Hall of Fame Medal Series Ends After 54 Years

Jewish-American Hall of Fame's first and final medals.

Mel Wacks, Director of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame, the longest series of medals being issued in the United States, has announced the end of the series due to the inability to find a mint to produce high quality medals at a reasonable cost.

“Every one of these medals has a story to tell,” Wacks said. “Every medal that we have issued from 1969 through 2023 is a numismatic ambassador fighting antisemitism ― whether it is the story of how Haym Salomon died penniless after giving over $300,000 to support the American Revolution, or how Jonas Salk insisted that the polio vaccine belongs to the world rather than bringing him personal profit. Or how Gertrude Elion battled misogyny to develop drug treatments that have saved millions of lives around the world, or how Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America” and donated the profits to the Boy and Girl Scouts.”

The 54 Jewish-American Hall of Fame medals were created by a Who’s Who of America’s greatest medalists ― winners of the American Numismatic Society’s (ANS) J. Sanford Saltus Award for Signal Achievement in the Art of the Medal (Eugene Daub, Alex Shagin, and Karen Worth) and the American Numismatic Association’s (ANA) Numismatic Art Award for Excellence in Medallic Sculpture (Eugene Daub, Virginia Janssen, Jim Licaretz, Hal Reed, Alex Shagin, Marika Somogyi, Paul Vincze, Gerta Ries Wiener, and Karen Worth).

Wacks considers the Jewish-American Hall of Fame medals “a great success.” He says that “A grand total of over 25,000 Jewish-American Hall of Fame medals have been made, and these reside in collections throughout the United States, and as far away as China. They are in museums in Berkeley and Cincinnati, England, Israel, and Sweden.”

Over a half million dollars (in 2023 dollars) has been raised through the sales of Jewish-American Hall of Fame medals for non-profit organizations such as the Judah L. Magnes Museum (Berkeley, California); the Skirball Museum (Cincinnati, Ohio); the American Numismatic Society (New York City, New York); and the American Jewish Historical Society (New York City). Plaques have also been contributed to the Virginia Holocaust Museum (Richmond, Virginia). In addition to the regular visitors, thousands of school children view the Jewish-American Hall of Fame plaques every year at the Virginia Holocaust Museum. And soon, there will be an exhibit of the medals at the new Jewish Community Campus in the East Bay (Oakland).

Mel Wacks is particularly proud of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame’s award-winning website. The website won the Numismatic Literary Guild’s (NLG) award for the Best Non-Commercial Web Site in 2002. Featured on the website are over 50 biographies of all the Honorees in the Jewish-American Hall of Fame, broken up by categories ― Business, Entertainment, Literature & Art, Medicine, Military, Music, Public Service, Religion, Science, Social Welfare, Sports, etc. There are also fun quizzes, interesting articles, and a Collector’s Guide containing the mintage figures of all the medals made in bronze, silver and gold.

Jewish-American Hall of Fame medals are generally offered on eBay. And the Jewish-American Hall of Fame has a small inventory of past issues. They are offering new collectors a starter set of three bronze medals for the special price of $100 plus $10 shipping; call (818) 225-1348 to order. For further information visit the website at www.amuseum.org, and you can read “Medals of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame 1969-2019” by Mel Wacks on the Newman Numismatic Portal.

While the Jewish-American Hall of Fame is no longer issuing medals, it will continue to honor a new inductee each year by creating a plaque that will hang in the Virginia Holocaust Museum. For 2024, the honoree is the actress/singer Molly Picon. The plaque was designed by Eugene Daub.

Molly Picon (1898-1992) was an American actress and singer of stage, screen, radio and television. She began her career in the Yiddish theatre and film, rising to a star, before transitioning into character roles in English-language productions. During World War II, Picon performed at army bases all over the U.S. and Canada in an effort to boost morale. Later, traveling at considerable peril to their own lives, Picon and her husband Jacob Kalich were the first entertainers to tour Displaced Persons camps after the war. There is a star celebrating Molly Picon and Jacob Kalich on the Yiddish Theater Walk of Fame on 2nd Avenue and 10th Street.

Molly Picon was later cast as an Italian mother opposite Frank Sinatra in Neil Simon’s screen adaption of Come Blow Your Horn, for which she received an Academy Award nomination. Molly went on to star on Broadway, Milk and Honey. In 1971, Picon starred in the film version of Fiddler on the Roof. Molly Picon appeared on television as in a recurring role as Mrs. Bronson in the NBC police comedy Car 54, Where Are You?, and in a few episodes of The Facts of Life as Natalie’s grandmother. Her final role was as Roger Moore’s mother in the comedies Cannonball Run and its sequel Cannonball Run II in 1981 and 1984, respectively.

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