IT’S HARD to believe that 35 years have passed since Sam Orbaum, a word enthusiast and a talented wordsmith, founded the Jerusalem Scrabble Club – whose title has included his name since his premature death from lymphoma in 2002.
Orbaum, who was 46 years old when he died, was born in Montreal in 1956. He relocated to Israel in 1981 as a rated North American Scrabble player. As he moved around the country, he found plenty of good players against whom to pit his wits, but was amazed that there was no regular Scrabble Club. He set about amending that situation and very soon after inaugurating the Jerusalem Scrabble Club in 1993, he discovered that he had more enthusiasts than he could accommodate. Not only that, he bridged the generation gap as young people barely in their 20s played against octogenarians and discovered that there was still a lot to learn about the game.
Orbaum played Scrabble mostly at night. In the daytime he worked as a features editor for The Jerusalem Post. He was also a very fine and often funny writer.
He had a delightful sense of humor, boundless energy and enthusiasm for anything and everything to do with the Scrabble Club, a very generous streak when praising writers and a very short fuse when he considered their work to be below par or when confronting what he considered to be an injustice. As far as anyone knows, the Sam Orbaum Jerusalem Scrabble Club is the largest in the world, constantly attracting new players. Several of its best players have done well in international competitions.
Orbaum continued to run the club until shortly before his death.
It was subsequently run by Roger Friedland, and the current director is David Litke.
An annual tournament is held in Orbaum’s memory. The 35th anniversary of the Scrabble Club will be celebrated on Tuesday April 24, at the Zipori Center in the Jerusalem Forest, beginning at 5:45 p.m. Participants can bring family members. The charge is NIS 70 per person for club members and their families and NIS 85 for non-members and their families. The fee entitles each person to dinner and three games.
Orbaum’s own highest score was when he defeated J.J. Jonah 653- 207. He also defeated Renata Kirschbaum, 652-290; Edythe Friedlander, 640-276; Alice Jonah, 624-295; and Tamara Rose, 621-264.
But there were scores that were equal to and even higher than Orbaum’s. Brenda Cohen defeated Spencer Schwartz, 653-286, and the five highest scores throughout the years are as follows: Hazel Haberer defeated Eddie Levenston, 692-288; Jonah defeated Joan Tsitsianov, 672-382; Rafi Stern defeated Ami Tzubery, 666-241; Haberer defeated Jonah, 664-278; and Zev Kesselman defeated Rose, 662-264.
It takes not only skill and remembering words not used in everyday speech, but also the luck of the draw. Letter tiles are selected blindly and even the best player in the world can end up with a low score if the he or she has tiles on the rack which don’t link to anything on the board that can result in high points.
TRIPLE PULITZER Prize winner Tom Friedman, who was Israel bureau chief for the New York Times from 1984 to 1988 after having previously served in the same position in Beirut, is back in Israel, not only to feel the pulse of the nation in its 70th anniversary year, but also to reconnect with old friends and colleagues and to participate in a dialogue with Jerusalem Press Club director General Uri Dromi. The event will be held in the Mishkenot Sha’ananim auditorium, also known as the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 10, prior to which light refreshments will be served. Tickets for Jerusalem Press Club members are NIS 80, journalists who may not be JPC members NIS 100, and non-members who are not journalists NIS 120.
During the dialogue, Friedman will reflect on “Four Decades of Middle East Reporting.” Two of his Pulitzer Prizes were for his reporting from Lerbanon and Israel, and even while based in the US he has continued to write frequently about the Middle East. Dromi, who has held a number of important positions, is a former spokesman for prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres and writes a regular column “Focus on Israel” for the Miami Herald. He is a retired colonel in the Israel Air Force, in which he served from 1964 to 1989, and he continued to fly in the reserves until 2003, when he retired from active service.