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September 10, 1993 - Image 68

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-09-10

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

WO RLD'S BEST

,/ciutpEr
„ cLEANING

0

,

Tuesday In Jerusalem
Means Scrabble

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cartoon of two dogs
arranging Scrabble
letters into the word
"arf' all over a board is
guanteed to send some Scrab-
ble players at the Jerusalem
Scrabble Club into paroxysms
of laughter. If you don't get it,
don't despair, there's probably
a lot more about the game
and this particular group of
decidedly obsessed in-
dividuals that you won't get.
Take, for instance, the sanc-
tity of Tuesday evenings in a
city as holy as Jerusalem.
That's the night when Scrab-
ble players, come what may,
square off in the Interna-
tional Cultural Center for
Youth (ICCY). "Neither war,
nor rain, nor other diversions
will keep this hardy lot from
their Scrabble," could be their
motto. The nine-year-old club
is the largest in the world, ac-
cording to American-born
founder Sam Orbaum, and
draws a core of Israeli
regulars (mostly immigrants
from English-speaking coun-
tries) as well as tourists and
visitors.
As a wedding band played a
hora and guests danced in the
ICCY courtyard one late sum-
mer evening, upstairs some
75 Jrslm Scrbbl Clb (in the
game and in Hebrew, vowels
are secondary to consonants,
thus the official club name)
players got down to business.
They bedeviled each other
with English spellings of
Hebrew and Yiddish words,
unusual letter configurations,
mundane but point laden let-
ters, and several seven-letter
words that wipe out in one fell
swoop one's collection of let-
ters and thus become the stuff
of legend. ("Quaffed"
garnered one player a record
296 points.)
So what is the attraction of
these Tuesday night meets?
"It's an escape from the
pressures of Israeli life," says
Mr. Orbaum. "No one talks
politics. Right wingers, left-
wingers, Orthodox, secular,
all come. No one cares who's
what. It's all irrelevant (to the
game)."
On January 15, 1991, most
Israelis confined themselves
to their homes, to be seconds
away from their sealed room
if need be. Not so for the club
players who ventured out to
the ICCY. A week later, when
sirens screamed and Iraqui
Scuds flew, this not-to-be-
messed-with bunch donned

Evan Cohen:
Scrabble champ.
their gas masks and con-
tinued to rack up points. It
took the Civil Guard to shut
down the game. And, maybe
for the first time in the
history of the game, Scrabble
was temporarily disbanded.
Edyth Friedlander, a club
champion and former teacher,
says it is a sophisticated way
to maintain her English after
21 years in the country.
But is it English? According
to the bible of Scrabble, the of
Scrabble Players Dic-
tionary, it is. However, a
casual observer might find
some words decidedly Hebraic
and even Yiddish. "The
Hebrew words just seem to
jump out at you," explains Mr.
Orbaum.
Acceptable are "shalom,"
all the Hebrew letters from
"aleph" to "taph" (no-one in
Jerusalem is going to neglect
putting an "s" on "lamed,"
the Hebrew letter). There's
also "ami," Hebrew for my na-
tion. The spirit's right and
the letters are Scrabble cor-
rect, but the acceptable mean-
ing is friend, more French
than Israeli. There also seems
to be a greater use of "ibex"
and "gazelle," animals in-
digenous to Israel. And, in
Yiddish, "oy" is in and "vay"
is out. "Schnapps" is okay.
For Evan Cohen, who
recently won the Second
Israeli Invitational Scrabble
Championship, it's words,
strategy and memory that at-
tract him to the game. The
aspiring lawyer memorizes
lists of useful words culled
from the official Scrabble
dictionary.
For Nigerian Bon Amah, a
visiting doctor of orthopedics
at Hadassah, it's fun and
games that brings him to the
ICCY. "They're much more
competitive here," he said.
Added Hebrew University
Professor of Linguistics Eddie
Levinston.



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