When this lockdown started I wanted something to stimulate my brain that would also allow me to wind down.
As a child growing up, I loved playing Scrabble and continued for many years playing my Mum every Shabbat (not the deluxe version!) and became fairly good. I love the game as it challenges you in so many ways, knowledge of words, strategy where to place them and decisions of when to swap letters etc.
So it was no surprise that I chose the Scrabble app as my relaxing stimulation!
It brought back all those years of playing on the dining room table with my mum. It was Scrabble for the 21st century – exactly the same game – but now an app on my phone and I could play against opponents from all across the world.
I was happy.
Then the news came.
‘Scrabble Go, a new game which will replace the existing official Scrabble mobile app made by Electronic Arts (EA) has sparked hundreds of complaints. Its vivid colours, treasure-style rewards and in-app purchase model has angered long-time players. The EA game will be discontinued on 5 June because the official franchise is now licensed to Scopely.’
I couldn’t believe it – and sure enough last Motzei Shabbat when I logged on – everything had disappeared.
The previous week, I had downloaded Scrabble Go – how bad could it be – it would still be Scrabble….
I was so wrong – as one reviewer stated:
‘This app is an abomination and an insult to Scrabble players. It has been hideously overdeveloped, with far too many buttons, images, moving icons and different meaningless “rewards” polluting the screen. It is impossible to play a game without constant interruption by ads or idiotic rewards that you cannot turn off or get rid of, literally after every go. The app also has “cheating” enabled by default, and you can’t turn it off. It allows players to use some of their “gems” (one of the stupid rewards) to see what the highest scoring word they could put down is, or where on the board valid words could be put down, or swapping your letters without losing a turn. This is IDIOTIC and takes away so much from the game.’
I couldn’t have said it better myself – I was so angry. I then checked some of the top reviews as well – I just couldn’t understand how ANYONE could be happy, yet this is what I found.
‘Very addictive!! Found this app through a personal recommendation and I have to admit I was shocked. I always thought of Scrabble as a boring game. It has so many mini games and events, so keeps Scrabble fun. There are so many online tournaments to choose from, I love the assortment of Scrabble Tiles there are to collect – be quirky and add that personal tile touch to your game! Scrabble is now one of my most played games! Who said scrabble was boring!!
Problem here was that what attracted her to the game was mainly collecting coloured tiles and playing mini games – that is not Scrabble, it may be fun – but it is not Scrabble.
Welcome to one of the biggest challenges in the Jewish world!
Let me explain:
This week in the Parsha we meet the final vestment of the Mishkan. Well not strictly part of the mishkan but part of the life of the nation – they are the Chatzozerot which are in essences trumpets.
The Chatzozerot were used to summon the people to journey, to announce war etc. The Torah had commanded Moses to construct numerous articles. The golden Menorah, the Aron the Mizbeach etc. All of these kelim were constructed once and once only and were to be used for all time.
However with regard to the Chatzozerot the Torah says ‘asseh lecha ‘ make for yourself – The Gemara learns out that each generation had to make their own set of trumpets.
So why the difference? Why for all other kelim was one set enough, but the chatzozerot had to be remade specifically for each generation?
I heard an answer many years ago from Rabbi Kimchie, which I have shared before – but it really hit me this week in regard to the Scrabble issues.
There are two components that fuse together to form the vibrant Judaism we practice today. First there is the content of Judaism, the halachic observance of the mitzvot – Shabbat, Chagim, Tefillah, Kashrut etc they are unchanging – built only once – they last forever.
However, then there are the Chatzozerot– the calling – how to convey the eternal message of Torah Judaism to people in every generation, so that the content will become relevant to their lives.
There is a desperate need to make sure that Orthodox Judaism is relevant to the modern world. Many Jews, especially the young, do not see how Judaism fits in to their modern 21st century existence. To them Judaism is an irrelevant age old religion – it is ‘boring’.
One option has therefore been to change the content, to change the traditions, to change the observances – it may keep people interested for a generation or two – but in the long term it is doomed to failure as we are seeing globally.
The other option is to follow the message of our parsha. Content – Divine and unchangeable, transmission – relevant to that generation.
The Chatzozerot serves to call out to each generation in a way which they can hear and respond to. What may have attracted their grandparents or their great grandparents no longer attracts them. We need Judaism taught to us in a modern voice. However, it is exactly the same Judaism that our great grandparents learnt and lived but it must be communicated in a way that is meaningful and relevant to our lives today.
That is the challenge of 21st century Jewish education – to work out what are the Chazozerot. We need to show young people and the community that there is a powerful ideology that demonstrates to that you can be engaged with the modern world in terms of culture, sport, music and education yet be 100% committed to a Torah way of life, to a life of Religious Zionism and live that life with passion and drive.
And it not simply in terms of the message but the messenger as well. We must create leaders, Rabbis and teachers that are connected to the eternal world of Torah but are also proud Zionists, engaged with the modern world, University educated and culturally aware – these are the living Chatzozerot we desperately need to convey the eternal message of Torah and Judaism to a snapchat and Instagram world! And I am proud to say that next year Mizrachi UK will have eight couples who are becoming the Chatzozerot of the future – our Mizrachi Rabbinic Fellows.
There is a happy ending to the Scrabble problem. Thankfully last Motzei Shabbat an ‘Orthodox’ Scrabble player posted:
‘Good news, you can change the board to the classic game that is much more similar to the original and has less annoying advertising. Just go to your profile settings and down at the bottom on the right side is Mode Settings. There you can switch over to Classic Scrabble.’
I did and I feel I am back at home – yes it is more ‘modern’ than the old version – but it is Scrabble, the exact same rules, exactly as I played against my mum and she played against hers – the mesorah is still intact!
Scrabble is just a game – but the future of our people is not. We need to wake up as a global community and realise what needs to be funded, prioritised and taught to inspire a Jewish world that is drifting ever further from the Jewish shore.