Pittsburgh has 446 bridges, but none with more character than the one being played at Rodef Shalom Congregation.
For the past 24 years, roughly 130 players have gathered from north, south, east and west to play the trick-taking card game.
“It is the biggest game in Allegheny County,” said Sandie Brand, a vice president of Rodef Shalom Sisterhood and Sisterhood volunteer chair of the duplicate bridge game.
With a regular buy-in of $7 per player or $14 per pair, Rodef Shalom’s weekly game has raised “well in the six figures,” she claimed. That money has gone on to supporting various Sisterhood and congrgational programs and projects, such as building renovations and sponsoring communal activities.
While many of the attendees at Rodef Shalom’s weekly game are affiliated with the Congregation, being a member or being Jewish is not required to play. Each Monday, people come for all different reasons, explained Gary Goetz, head director of Rodef Shalom’s duplicate bridge game.
“We have a good time and enjoy being together,” said Suzanne Wagner as to why she and her bridge partner, Joan Prizant, attend the weekly game.
“It tests your mind,” said Salessa Berk, who has been a member at Rodef Shalom for more than 50 years.
“It gets you out of the shops,” Burton Pollock noted to his wife as to why the pair play each week.
For the past eight years, Neal Zweig and Nick Chernew have played together.
“We enjoy playing bridge because it makes one of us think,” quipped Zweig.
The game, which dates back to the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, is a favorite of magnates and moguls, said Brand.
Both Warren Buffett, of Berkshire Hathaway, and Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, avidly support the game. The former went so far as to tell CBS News in 2008: “You know, if I’m playing bridge and a naked woman walks by, I don’t ever see her.”
Last Monday, more than 130 well-suited bridge players shuffled amid Rodef Shalom’s Freehoff Hall.
“For some, they want to collect more master points,” Goetz explained. Accumulating such points enable a player to achieve a recognized rank. For example, after receiving 75 black, 75 silver, 50 red, gold or platinum and 50 gold or platinum master points, a player can become a life master, according to American Contract Bridge League criteria.
But for other players, the point is not points. Coming to Monday bridge at Rodef Shalom may be “the only time to get out of the house or apartment,” Goetz noted.
Although Rodef Shalom regularly attracts a large crowd of players, attendance has declined from previous decades. Notably, while efforts have been made to introduce younger generations to the game, many have passed on the chance to play.
“Partly because of computers and people want to do things online,” Goetz surmised.
“For this game you have to come here and play with a partner,” he said. “There is also a social aspect, and I don’t think younger generations are as social as this generation. They like to talk in three-letter acronyms like OMG and LOL.
“I don’t think they’re used to playing games like we did in my house when I was growing up. We used to play Boggle, Phase 10 and Uno. Maybe they don’t do that anymore with families.”
For interested newcomers, Rodef Shalom offers bridge lessons “three times a year for all levels of play,” explained Brand.
Marcia Wolk takes lessons at Rodef Shalom. Since retiring, she has had more time to practice playing, she said.
“It’s not like crossword puzzles. It exercises your brain in a different way,” said Shereen Rosenberg, a fellow lesson-taker.
“This game teaches you reasoning and logic and partnership and cooperation,” said Goetz.
“It’s hard, but I love the game,” said Brand. “You’re never good. It humbles you. You never play a perfect game. It gets you to strive for being the best you can be.”
She then pointed across the table to David Kozloff.
“He’s my favorite partner,” Brand exclaimed. “He’s a very good bridge player and friend. He’s better than me. He carries me.”
“She’s older and wiser,” retorted Kozloff.
Smiling, Brand remarked, “He always brings up that I am older.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.