February 24, 1997
The Jerusalem Scrabble Club champion is a woman. Yes, that’s news. Women comprise a good two-thirds majority of the club, yet it’s only the second time in 28 seasons that a woman has won its highest prize. Hazel Haberer of Kibbutz Tzora has been one of the best players at the world’s largest Scrabble club since the very first season 14 yars ago, but never came close to vying for top honors.
She finished first in the just-completed 28th half-year seson (becoming the first-ever female League Champion in the elite Division A), and then faced playoff winner Zelig Leader in a best-of-five for the championship.
Leader, a seven-time champion, lost his third straight attempt at a record-breaking eighth title.
Haberer’s victory extended an unusual trend that shows how balanced the fierce (but friendly) competition is in Divsion A: seven different players have won the last seven championships. Before that, the title was dominated by three players over a period of 13 seasons. In Division B, Scrabble whiz J.J.Jonah faced a phenomenal but raw rookie, Rena Blumenthal, newly arrived from New York. Following a season in whch he broke the club record for a high average (427), Jonah won the series 3-1, reclaiming a spot in Division A. Blumenthal joined him there — a remarkable achievement in that she only started playing competitively on her first visit to the club six months earlier. No other player had ever earned a spot in ‘A’ so quickly, after just one season.
Joan Tsitsianov beat Lisa Harris three games to one for the ‘C’ championship. In the non-competitive D division, Bela Gilbey ended the season with an uncanny 12-game win streak to complete an an amazing surge, finishing first by two points.