To play or not to play was the question Major League Baseball’s first Jewish player faced at this time more than 80 years ago. The year was 1934. The Detroit Tigers were locked in a pennant race with the Babe Ruth-era New York Yankees. Hank Greenberg was their star player. And Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fell on two important game days. What would he do?How does this relate to us here and now? Neighbor and documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner‘s 2000 film on Greenberg inspired a recent radio program. She states in an email: “A young NPR reporter, Noam Hassenfeld, had just seen The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg and decided to do a radio piece on Hank’s decision to play or not to play in 1934.”
Hassenfeld spoke to Kempner and Greenberg’s son, Steve. Listen to the segment or read the transcript from WBUR’s “Only a Game” program.
Since we are in the period between the Jewish New Year and the day of fasting to atone for our sins, this serves as a reminder of what a tough decision this was at that time. And perhaps offers a lesson for us now.