GRAPEVINE: IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS THE WORD…
The Scrabble Club celebrates a landmark anniversary
THE CELEBRATION of the 50th session of the Sam Orbaum Jerusalem Scrabble Club – said to be the largest in the world – was most appropriately held in a relatively new restaurant known as Shmiel’s. Shmiel is a Yiddish version of Shmuel, from which the English name Samuel is taken. The late Sam Orbaum, who after a seven-year battle with cancer, died in December, 2002, at age 46, was in April 1983, the co-founder with Sara Schacter of the Jerusalem Scrabble Club that now bears his name. Next year, the club will celebrate its 25th anniversary, which will of course be a timely reason for another gathering to reminisce about Sam, who in addition to being a Scrabble addict, was a also a keen baseball fan, a features editor of The Jerusalem Post, and a talented writer with a deliciously wry sense of humor. That humorous streak has obviously been inherited by his teenage triplet daughters Odelia, Nomi and Donna, who with the help of their mother, freelance journalist Wendy Elliman, put together a fast-paced, witty power-point presentation about the history of the Scrabble Club. The presentation opened with a suitably dramatic musical background, while on the screen flashed the Gothic-type title and subtitle: “In the beginning there was the word… And the word was Scrabble.” Elliman, who left the club to look after her daughters when they were babies, returned only after Orbaum’s death, and managed to photograph most of the members, whose faces were featured like mug shots in the presentation. Among them were real veterans who were there either right from the very beginning or from within the first few weeks of the club’s existence, and who still come each week to play. Among them were Zelig Leader, Hadassah Braun, Zev Kesselman, Madeleine and Aryeh Weatherhorn, Pamela Loval, Hazel Haberer, Ruth Ogdan, Steve Goldberg, Hilda Ben Nun and Queenie Parnes. David Litke, the third and current director of the Scrabble Club, said that in its 24 years of weekly meetings, it had attracted 1,730 individual players, who collectively had scored an aggregate of some 66 million Scrabble points. It was impossible to come to the club, he said, without thinking about Sam. Leader noted that words and the points they can get for them are so important to Scrabble players that they run contrary to mainstream thinking. For instance, he said, Scrabble players finding “orgasm” disappointing with only six letters, while “impotent” with eight letters is something they want to share with their partners. Similarly, Scrabble players prefer “poverty” to “wealth.” One of the observations made by the triplets in their power point presentation, was “the less your hair, the greater your word strength.” Their father, who had gone bald very early in life, was certainly an example of that, but there were other excellent players in the club who fell into the same category. The power-point presentation was so good and so popular, that many of those present asked to see it again, and stayed back after the festivities to do so. Sam, who adored his daughters, would have been justifiably proud.