Phyllis Kramer of Farmington Hills, Shirley Marshak of West Bloomfield, Laura Trosch of Southfield, Esther Icikson of West Bloomfield and Shelia Levin of West Bloomfield.

For more than 42 years the Rummikub ladies have gathered together every Wednesday night to play their favorite game.

Photos By Jerry Zolynsky

They’re getting older now, but not much will stop the Rummikub ladies, who have been getting together every week for more than 42 years to schmooze and play the tile-based game.

They started in 1977, soon after Laura Trosch, then 42, lost her husband. She felt she needed to make new friends. An older neighbor introduced her to Phyllis Kramer. They liked each other and decided they’d each bring in another friend so they could start a Rummikub quartet. Trosch invited Shelia Levine — their daughters were friends — and Kramer invited Shirley Marshak.

At their first meeting, the group burst out laughing as they realized that Trosch, Levine and Marshak had been classmates, graduating from Central High School in 1953. Kramer, who at 81 calls herself “the baby of the group,” graduated from Central two years later.

After nine years together, the women thought it would be wise to have a fifth person in their group, in case one of them was ill, on vacation or otherwise unable to play. Trosch’s son had just gotten engaged. She thought a good way to make a friend out of her future machetenista (daughter’s mother-in-law) would be to invite her into the Rummikub group, and Esther Icikson has been with them since then. Icikson, who came to Detroit from Israel in 1958, is the only non-Central grad in the group.

Shirley Marshak of West Bloomfield is given a thumbs-up after her win from Esther Icikson of West Bloomfield. Jerry Zolynsky
Phyllis Kramer of Farmington Hills reacts to her come-from-behind victory. Jerry Zolynsky

There were other ties. Levine’s daughter, Rhonda (Linovitz), and Kramer’s daughter, Elaine (Peters), were — and still are — best friends.

When all five are present, the women take turns sitting out a hand while the other four play.

Rummikub was the “in” game when the women formed their group. Since then, Trosch has learned to play mahjong, Icikson learned bridge and Marshak took up canasta. But Rummikub maintains a special place in their hearts.

The game was invented after World War II by Ephraim Hertzano in Romania, when card-playing was outlawed by the Communist regime. Hertzano immigrated to British-controlled Palestine and continued to develop the game at his home in Bat Yam. By the late 1970s, it was the best-selling game in the United States.

Rummikub uses eight sets of colored, numbered tiles plus two jokers. Players place tiles to create sets of same-numbered tiles of different colors or runs of consecutive-numbered tiles of the same color, similar to the sets and runs in the gin rummy card game.

Children love the game because it’s so easy to learn, Marshak said. All the women have played with their children and grandchildren (and Trosch and Icikson are looking forward to playing with great-grandchildren).

For most of their time together the women took turns hosting the Wednesday evening games. Recently they’ve been meeting at Kramer’s Farmington Hills home every week because she’s unable to leave her husband alone in the evening.

They play for money — the three losers of each hand pony up a whopping penny-a-point, up to a maximum loss of $2 per week, which goes to the winner of that hand. And every week each woman pays $3 “dues” to Levine. When there’s enough in the kitty, every three or four months, they treat themselves to a nice lunch or dinner.

Over the years the women have shared some sorrows and many joys. In the spring of 1986, they celebrated three weddings within a month, first Kramer’s daughter, then Levine’s daughter, then the union of Trosch’s son and Icikson’s daughter.

What keeps them going is their genuine affection for one another. “We enjoy playing and we enjoy each other’s company,” said Marshak of West Bloomfield.

“In 42 years, we’ve never had a disagreement other than picking a restaurant,” Levine said.

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