Slifka Center Celebrates Hank Greenberg and Launches Jewish Sports Forum
The Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale will present the first Forum for the Study of Jews and Sports with a special screening April 12 of “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” a critically acclaimed documentary on the baseball great.
Sports are a field of endeavor in which Jews have reputedly been underrepresented. In screening the Greenberg film and by serving as the venue for the Forum for the Study of Jews and Sports, the Slifka Center is helping to raise consciousness and dispel myths on that subject.
Hank Greenberg is an American hero, revered as much for his batting average as for his courage in slugging religious prejudice out of the ballpark. Born in the Bronx in 1911, the 6’ 4” Greenberg rose to fame playing for the Detroit Tigers from 1933-46. His 183 RBI in 1937 were one short of Lou Gehrig’s American League record, and he hit 58 home runs in 1938, nearly matching what was then the record of 60 by Babe Ruth. He was an inspiration to American Jews, refusing to play on the holy day of Yom Kippur and getting special-well publicized-rabbinic dispensation in 1934 to play an important game that fell on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
His holding his own in the face of freely expressed anti-Semitism served as a model to athletes who followed. Jackie Robinson acknowledged his debt to Greenberg in his own struggle to overcome racial prejudice, and in 1965, following Greenberg’s example, Sandy Koufax refused to play in a World Series game on Yom Kippur.
The documentary film, written, directed and produced by Aviva Kempner, presents “Hammerin’ Hank” through archival footage and interviews with friends, family, teammates and many celebrity fans. “I thought he’d become the first Jewish president,” ardent fan Alan Dershowitz says in the film of his idol, sometimes known as “the baseball Moses.”
Included in the film is the historic footage of Greenberg’s 1945 grand slam that brought the Tigers to the World Series, and two noteworthy renditions of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” sung in Yiddish by Henry Sapoznik and Mandy Patinkin.
Immediately following the screening, Aviva Kempner and Hank’s son Steve Greenberg (Yale ‘70), a former Deputy Commissioner of Baseball, will lead a discussion with audience members.
“The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” made its cinematic debut at the Film Forum in New York on January 12 and has been screened at film festivals in Berlin, Jerusalem, and San Francisco. It won the Spirit Award for Best Sports Documentary at the International Sports Video and Film Awards as well as the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Hamptons International Film Festival.
The Slifka Center screening marks the opening of the Forum for the Study of Jews and Sports, which is supported by the Karetsky Family Fund. With a diversified format comprising discussions, lectures and testimonials from accomplished athletes, the Forum is dedicated to exploring the impact of sports on Jews and to encourage the emergence of a new Jewish sports tradition.
“The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” will be shown at York Square Cinemas, 55 Broadway at 8 p.m. Tickets, which are free to the Yale community, can be obtained at the Slifka Center, 80 Wall Street. For more information about this event, call (203) 432-1134.