web analytics
December 19, 2014 / 27 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
8000 meals Celebrate Eight Days of Chanukah – With 8,000 Free Meals Daily to Israel’s Poor

Join Meir Panim’s campaign to “light up” Chanukah for families in need.



A Hero When Jews Desperately Needed One: An Interview with Hank Greenberg Biographer John Rosengren


John Rosengren

John Rosengren

To his parents’ friends, he was “Mrs. Greenberg’s disgrace,” but to sports fans he is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – Jewish baseball players of all time.

Long before Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg excited Jewish sports fans with his prowess on the baseball diamond. Playing in the 1930s during the most anti-Semitic period in United States history, Greenberg served as daily proof that Jews were neither foreign nor inferior, and could in fact even excel in that most American of all sports: baseball.

The Jewish Press recently spoke with John Rosengren, author of “Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes” (New American Library, 2013).

The Jewish Press: Hank Greenberg is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Yet, you note in your book that fans in his day would routinely taunt him. Why?

Rosengren: Things were different back in the ‘30s and ‘40s when Greenberg played. First off, ethnic identification was much stronger. Also, anti-Semitism was much more widely practiced and socially acceptable. So Greenberg was singled out as a Jew and frequently derided with ethnic slurs and insults.

You write that many Jewish ballplayers at the time changed their last names to something that sounded less Jewish. Greenberg didn’t. Why?

Well, it wasn’t just ballplayers who changed their names. People in Hollywood and other professions changed their names too so they could become more socially acceptable.

Greenberg didn’t. He was proud to be a Jew. He was raised in an Orthodox household by his parents, and his heritage was very important to him as a young man. He’d go to temple on high holy days, and when he was in the minor leagues he lived in an Orthodox boarding house so he could eat the Seder meal on Passover. He didn’t want to deny who he was.

It’s interesting that of all cities to play in, Greenberg chose Detroit, home to some of America’s most notorious anti-Semites at the time.

It was certainly a hostile city. Henry Ford was the arch anti-Semite of America and his screeds against Jews in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, were quite frequent. At the same time, the Roman Catholic priest, Charles Coughlin, was in suburban Detroit and had a radio show with an audience of ten million that eagerly listened to his rants against Jews.

Jews represented only five percent of Detroit’s population at the time, so there were a lot of people in Detroit who had never met or seen a Jew, so they didn’t have a point of reference to challenge these stereotypes until Hank Greenberg came along. He was 6’ 4”, 220 lbs. and as soon as he stepped on the field, he shattered any stereotype of Jews being weak or unathletic. Later on, he proved himself an intelligent, charming, charismatic guy and won over a lot of fans.

You write that Greenberg served as a tremendous source of pride to Jews. How so?

The ‘30s and ‘40s were very difficult times for Jews – not just in Europe but also here in the United States. Jews couldn’t practice at [many] law firms, couldn’t be treated at certain hospitals, and couldn’t attend the college of their choice. Greenberg actually had a scholarship to Princeton but wasn’t allowed to attend because the university had already fulfilled its Jewish quota, which was two percent. Additionally, there were ads in newspapers that said “gentiles only” and there were restricted communities where Jews could not live. The climate was very much against Jews.

And so at a time like this, Greenberg became a rallying point for Jews. They felt an affinity with Greenberg as one of their own and took a special pride in his accomplishments. If someone today tells you a certain baseball player is Jewish, you say, “Oh, nice,” but back then the fact that Greenberg was Jewish meant so much to people. Ethnic identification was much stronger then. The other night, I was in New York doing a book event and an elderly woman said to me, “We looked to him as such a hero.”

Interestingly, Greenberg wasn’t really comfortable at first in his role as a representative Jew, especially in 1934 when he was forced to decide whether or not to play on Rosh Hashanah.

About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and author of “Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape” (Brenn Books).


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “A Hero When Jews Desperately Needed One: An Interview with Hank Greenberg Biographer John Rosengren

  1. Good talking to you, Elliot. Just to clarify, Greenberg did serve as Kiner's best man the first two marriages but when Kiner asked him a third time, Hank finally begged off, saying he didn't want to jinx another marriage.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Cinema City Iron Man Theater in Jerusalem. (illustrative)
US Govt IDs North Korea in Sony Cyber Terror Attack
Latest Indepth Stories
Greiff-112814-Men

Am Yisrael is one family, filled with excruciating pain&sorrow for losing the 4 kedoshim of Har Nof

Two dreidels from the author’s extensive collection.

What is its message of the dreidel?” The complexity and hidden nature of history and miracles.

Keeping-Jerusalem

Police play down Arab terrorism as mere “violence” until the truth can no longer be hidden.

Sprecher-121914

The 7 branches of the menorah represent the 7 pillars of secular wisdom, knowledge, and science.

Obama obtained NO verifiable commitments from Cuba it would desist from acts prejudicial to the US

No one would deny that the program subjected detainees to less than pleasant treatment, but the salient point is, for what purpose?

For the past six years President Obama has consistently deplored all Palestinian efforts to end-run negotiations in search of a UN-imposed agreement on Israel.

It’s not an admiration. It is simply a kind of journalist fascination. It stands out, it’s different from more traditional Orthodoxy.

For Am Yisrael, the sun’s movements are subservient to the purpose of our existence.

Israelis now know Arab terrorism isn’t caused by Israeli occupation but by ending Israeli occupation

Anti-Semitism is a social toxin that destroys the things that people most cherish and enjoy.

Amb. Cooper highlighted the impact of the Chanukah/Maccabee spirit on America’s Founding Fathers

Zealousness has its place and time in Judaism; Thank G-d for heroic actions of the Maccabees!

Israel and the strengthening of the Jewish people in faith and numbers has brought a growing light

More Articles from Elliot Resnick
Joseph Berger 
(Photo: James Estrin)

It’s not an admiration. It is simply a kind of journalist fascination. It stands out, it’s different from more traditional Orthodoxy.

Rav Dov Katz

To many Orthodox Jews the issue is “Permitted & Prohibited;” “Right & Wrong” barely considered,

You can’t say “Jewish French,” “Jewish British,” “Jewish Italian.” They are “French Jews,” “British Jews,” and “Italian Jews” – because they’re seen as Jews first and residents or citizens of their countries second.

Another thing they have been covering up is the nature of the building that was attacked. To this day people refer to it as a consulate or an embassy, but it wasn’t.

The reality is that civility is less important than clarity, and right now only very few people on the Left are interested in having a civil conversation about the merits of particular policy solutions.

Rabinovich is the author of several popular books on Israel’s wars, including The Battle for Jerusalem, The Yom Kippur War, and The Boats of Cherbourg.

I think Seth Lipsky is amazing, but it just drives home the point that newspapers have a lot of moving parts.

Can teenagers seriously be expected to behave properly when they are surrounded by so much suggestive material? Is it fair to expose them (and ourselves) to so much temptation and then tell them, “Just say no”?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/a-hero-when-jews-desperately-needed-one-an-interview-with-hank-greenberg-biographer-john-rosengren/2013/05/22/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: