If You Enjoy Playing Scrabble, Word Is, Jerusalem’s The Place To Be

If You Enjoy Playing Scrabble, Word Is, Jerusalem’s The Place To Be

By Michael Prager, The Hartford Courant
January 15, 1989

JERUSALEM— Perhaps it is a bit strange that Jerusalem, where Hebrew and Arabic are the native languages, is home to probably the world’s largest club of English-speaking Scrabble players.

But its 50 or so members – and the three or four newcomers who drop in weekly – don’t care about that. They just want to play.

”It’s a social haven for every sort of Jerusalemite. Here, they have everything in common,” said Sam Orbaum, director of the Jrslm Scrbbl Clb, as he likes to spell it.

A haven perhaps, but the game’s the thing. Orbaum and friends rank players in three divisions and keep copious stats and standings; the best members offer the stiffest of competition.

Still you don’t have to be an expert to join in. The atmosphere is quite friendly, and newcomers are heartily welcomed. The skill of members varies widely, so there is likely to be someone of equal skill to play against.

When you arrive, ask for Orbaum, a lifelong Montrealer before he moved to Jerusalem seven years ago. He is an advertising copy writer at The Jerusalem Post, the city’s English-language newspaper and the club’s sponsor.

He will welcome you and ask for a small fee, about $1.50, ”for use of the hall,” he will say.

The first game’s pairings are random. In the second game, winners play winners of similar scores – likewise for losers. For the final game, total points scored in the first two games is the determinant.

Play is governed strictly by the rules. Word challenges are settled by referring to the Official Scrabble Players’ Dictionary. Usually, a disinterested third party consults the book so that neither player gains an advantage from seeing the dictionary.

Newcomers are provided with a list of the dictionary’s 86 two-letter words and are allowed to refer to it during the games. Among those listed are xu, xi, ka, ae and ex. Club members meet Tuesday nights at Hebrew Union College on King David Street, from about 7:30 until 11:30.

By the way: Be wary if Orbaum picks you as his opponent. The night I was there, he played two games simultaneously during the final round – while he recorded the outcomes of the other games going on as he was being interviewed for this story. He won both games, going away.