‘WORDS EXCHANGED’ IN JERUSALEM SCRABBLE GALA

 

‘WORDS EXCHANGED’ IN JERUSALEM SCRABBLE GALA

by Greer Fay Cashman

Jerusalem Post, August 16, 2002

In the beginning was the word — and the word in the lexicon of popular Jerusalem Post columnist Sam Orbaum is Scrabble.  No one has done as much for the game in Israel as Orbaum, who this week celebrated the Jerusalem Scrabble Club’s 1,000th meeting with a festive dinner at Tony’s Restaurant in the Islamic Museum, followed, of course, by a series of Scrabble matches.  On hand was Sara Shachter, who, 20 years ago, according to Orbaum, commanded him to start the club; Brenda Fessbinder, the first person in Israel to beat the Scrabble savvy Orbaum in a game; yours truly who was the JSC’s first official member; and Rafi Stern, the JSC’s latest player, who came from the US to celebrate his bar mitzva in Israel and decided that he just had to play Scrabble.  But there were lots of other people who’ve exchanged words in more ways than one with Orbaum over the years, and who happily recollected Scrabble anecdotes.  Twenty years ago, when Shachter moved to Jerusalem, the only people she knew in the capital were her two sons who did not play Scrabble.  Seeing an advertisement in the Post for a Scrabble tournament in Tiberias, she went along.  Naturally, it was run by Orbaum, and she asked him to put her together with Jerusalem people so that she could form a new social circle.  Later she told him that he simply had to start a Scrabble club in Jerusalem.  He’d already done that in Herzliya where he met the attractive Fessbinder.  Because he was in charge of the pairings and he wanted to make moves on her, he paired her against himself — and she beat the pants off him.  Orbaum had played Scrabble with his parents, but he didn’t know that other members of the family were also Scrabble addicts.  When Orbaum made aliya, his mother had told him about a cousin called Queene Parnes who lived in Jerusalem.  It took him around eight months to look her up.  He arrived on a Thursday and spent the next four days in a Scrabble marathon with Parnes and her son Sholem.  Parnes was one of the early members of the club, is an unflagging regular, and of course was there for the 1,000th meeting, as were other Scrabble lovers such as Ruth Ogdan, Roger Friedland, who was brought in by Pamela Loval, whom he met at a Rotary Club meeting, Joan Berg, Zelig Leader, David Litke, Madeline Wetherhorn, Gilad and Steve Goldberg, who with the help of Zev Kesselman created the JSC website, Hazel Haberer, who kept taking too many tiles when she first played against Orbaum and was too afraid to tell him, Richard and Rachel Aron, who were celebrating their wedding anniversary, Devora Waysman, who wrote a poem about preferring sparkling words over high scores made with words that mean nothing, and Roz Grossman, who serenaded Orbaum and presented him with a T-shirt featuring his head on the figure of Moses, with the apt inscription about the word.  The challenge of finding the right word with the best possible score has bridged generations and cut across the religious and political divides.  For many of the close to 90 people gathered last Tuesday to salute Orbaum as much as the game itself,the Scrabble meetings are the highlight of their week.