Awesome may be a word that many associate with inarticulate teenagers, but it is
the only word to describe the feeling of playing Scrabble with Roz Grossman. I
looked in complete awe as she produced a 60-point word within two minutes of
She’s bubbling and dynamic, and both her outward appearance and her
personality belie her 85 years. Well-known in the Jerusalem Scrabble Club
(“Killer division,” she adds, with a twinkle in her eye) she used to come over
to Israel just to play Scrabble (and visit her two sons and their families)
until she finally made aliya with her late husband Rabbi Herman Grossman in
She was born in 1926 on the Lower East Side, one of eight
“We were very poor, but we didn’t know we were poor, so we were
happy,” she says now. Her father sold clothing from a pushcart, and her mother
“It was the Depression and the days of handouts,” she says.
She remembers standing in line for milk and potatoes, and her mother putting the
clothes and shoes in the oven so they would be warm when they dressed in the
morning. She also recalls singing on the Jewish radio station WEVD with two of
her sisters as a group called The Spicy Sisters (from her maiden name Gewurz,
meaning spice) many decades before Victoria Beckham, et al, were doing their
“We always had music,” she says. Her mother would play the piano
at the local community center in the evenings after work. There was no piano at
home, so her mother practiced all week on a “deaf” piano, a large trunk painted
with a keyboard.
Friday nights were for singing.
much food, but we sang zmirot
[Shabbat songs] for hours,” Grossman
She studied at Brooklyn College and the Jewish Theological
Seminary and earned a degree in education. It was there that she met her
husband, as he also studied there after graduating Harvard.
together on June 8, 1947, and got married on June 17, 1947,” she
says. “So we walked down two aisles together in two weeks!”
started his career as a military chaplain in the US air force and then held a
series of pulpits, while she went directly into teaching and ultimately became
principal of several Jewish day schools.
Being married to a Conservative
rabbi meant moving around a great deal and living in places like Biloxi,
Mississippi, and Kalamazoo, Michigan. It was there, while her husband was
serving the Congregation of Moses in Kalamazoo, that she was introduced to
Scrabble. She found it addictive and instantly became good at it.
two sons, Danny and Tuvia, having immigrated to Israel (another, Joel, lives in
California), she and her husband would often visit, and she became a regular at
the Jerusalem Scrabble Club. She had met the late Sam Orbaum even before he
co-founded the club, having been introduced by mutual Scrabble-mad friends from
“I got a call from him while I was staying with my son in Givat
Shmuel – asking if he could come and play Scrabble with me,” she says. “He came
and stayed all night. We played 10 games, of which he lost nine.
that, I was thankful if I ever won one game against him.”
regularly to Jerusalem just to play, and on one memorable trip brought a
suitcase full of Scrabble sets that she’d collected from tournaments she’d
played in the States and which would just have been thrown out otherwise. To
this day, she is known in the club as “the fairy godmother.”
In 1993, her
husband retired from the job he had held for 21 years as chaplain at the
veterans’ hospital in Huntington, Long Island, and the Grossmans settled in Kfar
Saba – not far from the children, grandchildren and
great-grandchildren. Her life could be characterized by the three “S”es –
singing, Scrabble and swimming. She joined a choir in Karnei Shomron,
sang and played the piano and accordion for singalongs, helped put on a Purim
shpiel she had written – which included training the protagonists, all people
living in a retirement home, to act and sing – swam in the local country club
and, of course, played Scrabble as often as she could. Her husband did volunteer
work, and they were both active in the local Conservative synagogue.
husband died 11 years ago, but Grossman is never alone, with sisters, nieces and
nephews not far away, and being, as she puts it, the designated driver for many
of the great-grandchildren, with whom she also plays Hebrew
“The fun thing is watching the kids grow,” she says. “The more
you have, the more you want.”
She feels she can sum up her life in the
words of the Psalmist: “Serve God joyfully – come before Him in
She also subscribes to the theory that, with regard to the brain,
one should “use it or lose it” – which is probably why she still plays Scrabble
three or four times a week with a friend.