It was an evening of Jewish baseball nostalgia at Povich Field on July 7 for attendees of a Bethesda Big Train baseball game and Jewish Baseball Heritage Night. By the time it was over, the team had defeated Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts 13-1.
Flashback an hour or two, and local documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner regaled a dinnertime crowd with stories about Jewish baseball players Hank Greenberg and Moe Berg.
Kempner, whose films include “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” and “The Spy Behind Home Plate,” said her immigrant father had instilled in her a love of baseball and of Jewish heroes, in particular Greenberg, who played for her hometown Detroit Tigers and who one attendee in the audience referred to as “not the biblical Moses, but the baseball Moses.”
Kempner spoke of Greenberg’s legendary choice of his Judaism over his career, when in 1934 he went to Yom Kippur services rather than play baseball.
“It was a pennant race. He went to the shul instead of the stadium, and there was a big discussion in the newspapers,” Kempner said. (A report by NBC Sports, though, states that while Greenberg sat out the game on Yom Kippur, he did play on Rosh Hashanah.)
Berg played for the Washington Senators and the Boston Red Sox. She said Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich had said that the Senators’ mental capacity had been raised by the arrival of Berg, who had attended Princeton and was believed to have spoken as many as seven languages.
On the field, Cantor Lindsay Kantor of Temple Emanuel sang the national anthem. Kempner threw out one of several “first balls.”
In the stands was Rockville resident Vince Berg.
“I always tease that uncle Moe [Berg] is my relative, but he’s not. [But] he’s from the same neighborhood my father grew up in. I just love having a relaxing time sitting at the stadium. You talk, you watch the game, and just a couple hours of just relaxation.”
Steven Mathis, a resident of Kensington, came to Jewish Baseball Heritage Night with 42 other members of the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington’s Men’s Club. He noted how “Moe Berg, Sandy Koufax and some other Jewish ballplayers [exemplify] positive efforts toward the Jewish community.”
Vince Berg stated that baseball shows that Jews are as talented as anyone else.
“We grew a few big ones. They’re in football, too. It’s just a matter of practicing and having talent.”
Outside the stadium, friends Josh Goldfarb and Ray Azarm were watching their kids play on the sculpture of Povich and Senators’ Hall of Famer Walter “Big Train” Johnson. They’re both Montgomery County baseball families, Goldfarb said.
Then it was time to head for the stands.