In Hammerin’ Hank’s shadow

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Yonah Gross and Mindy Shankman listen to filmmaker Aviva Kempner speak about baseball legend Hank Greenberg. Photos by David Holzel
Yonah Gross and Mindy Shankman listen to filmmaker Aviva Kempner speak about baseball legend Hank Greenberg. Photos by David Holzel

The humid evening game at Shirley Povich Field in Rockville pitted the Bethesda Big Train against the Herndon Braves. While the final score was an 8-3 victory for the home team, the event had an added dimension: Jewish Heritage Night.

“It’s a beautiful night to be at a baseball game, and to be a part of the Jewish community celebration,” said lawyer Jeffrey Hamberger, with his wife, Rachel, beside him for the June 23 event. “We get to see our friends, and hear things about Jewish aspects of baseball, and it’s a real nice thing,” he said. The couple said they come every year to Jewish Heritage Night, and are regulars at Povich Field.


Three generations of the Levine-Simons family were in the stands near 3rd base.
Three generations of the Levine-Simons family were in the stands near 3rd base.

“You get to come out here for an inexpensive night with your family,” added Paul Lewis, an attorney in Gaithersburg. “And the name Shirley Povich evokes memories of longtime Washingtonians, like me, and we think of the Senators in the old days, so it’s just a great night all around.”

Co-sponsored by Washington Jewish Week, Jewish Heritage Night brought an ethnic flavor to the field. After “The Star Spangled Banner” was sung, area Rabbi David Shneyer sang “God Bless America” in Yiddish.

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“The atmosphere we want here is that baseball is a great sport, and we need to get the youth involved,” David Schneider, Big Train baseball’s president and general manager, said during the game. “It’s all about the love of the game.”

Jenna, John and Marco Calderon wait for the game to begin.
Jenna, John and Marco Calderon wait for the game to begin.

As part of Heritage Night, Big Train recognized Major League Baseball Jewish icon Hank Greenberg by retiring his number 5 that he wore as a player with the Detroit Tigers. Aviva Kempner, the award-winning director of the 1998 documentary “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” spoke during the picnic dinner about Greenberg’s stellar baseball career and the anti-Semitism he confronted in the 1930s and ‘40s.


“He’s more than just for the Jewish community, he’s a really important player in the way that [Roberto] Clemente and [Jackie] Robinson were very important to their Latin and African-American communities,” she said. “They really are the symbols of what makes America great.”

Big Train’s decision to retire Greenberg’s number 5 had as much to do with honoring a baseball legend as with teaching about an American who overcame prejudice.

“At Big Train, we’re building a living history museum, and our goal is to educate,” said Bruce Adams, director of Montgomery County’s Office of Community Partnerships, who supervises Big Train.

Spectator Yossi Bluming said he often attends Big Train games. “I decided it would be nice to come out here, and be with everybody and celebrate Jewish heritage,” he said.

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