Former Detroiter Aviva Kempner Keeping the Hank Greenberg Legend Alive

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Former Detroiter Aviva Kempner keeps beating the drums for the late Detroit Tigers legend Hank Greenberg.

It took Kempner 13 years to make “The Life and TImes of Hank Greenberg,” a critically acclaimed 2000 documentary about the Jewish ballplayer. it won the prestigious Peabody Award and grossed more than $1 million at the box office. 

Now she’s trying to give the film a second wind.

It was re-released on DVD this week with more than two hours of extras, including an interview with U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn, 88.  Kempner says the new release also has lengthier interviews with the late columnist Joe Falls,  Sen. Carl Levin, Rep. Sander Levin, the late Ernie Harwell,  and the late Tiger and city councilman Billy Rogell.

Kempner, 66, who is Jewish, now lives in Washington, D.C., where she was active  in the movement to bring major league baseball back to the capital.

She grew up in Sherwood Forest in Detroit and graduated from Cass Tech and the University of Michigan. Her other documentaries include “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” (2009), the story of Gertrude Berg, a popular radio and TV personality, and the "Partisans of Vilna" (1986) about the Jewish resistance in World War II. 

About Hank Greenberg, she says: “He was my father’s hero. He talked about him every Yom Kippur.” Greenberg did not play on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement,  in the 1934 World Series against St. Louis. Instead, he went to the Shaarey Zedek synagogue in Detroit, and was met by applause from the congregation.

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She describes the film  as the story of an extraordinary baseball player who transcended ethnic and religious prejudice to become a hero for all Americans. The film shows how Greenberg faced anti-semitism in Detroit, and how he became a hero in the Jewish community.The day he died, Sept. 4, 1986, Kempner said she decided to make the film.

He also was very welcoming to Jackie Robinson, who faced a barrage of racism when he stepped up to the majors. 

“I think it’s the most positive film about Detroit,” she says. “ There’s all these negative films about Detroit.

To find out how to get the DVD, click here.

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