This group of die-hard ping pong players meet daily at the JCC.

A group of ping pong players have been gathering for more than 12 years at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield.

By Ellen Stone

Featured photo courtesy of Yakov Faytlin

A group of die-hard ping pong players at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield have persevered for more than 12 years. We play every day from 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Initially Big Boris, age 67, and Little Boris occupied the right table, keeping score in Russian, leaving the left table to the Americans: Sy Borsen, 92, Fred Kendell and Bob Salamon, both 86. When Bob’s wife, Lila, recently passed away, Fred organized a fund to plant 15 trees in Israel in her honor.

Big Boris came from near Chernobyl. Bob, a Holocaust survivor, migrated to China before arriving in the U.S. Fred also endured the perils of Germany. Once in America, he studied art at Cass Tech. His daughter is a museum artist in California.

Kind enough to help me along with my own art, he takes credit for every piece I sell. Oh, and his jokes, he always has one.

Sy was a national ping pong champion until he was disqualified for being too young. He is our human ping pong robot. He has mentored us all.

The team continues to grow. Now there is Yury I (Gendelman, 68), a dentist from Ukraine, and Yury II (Kuperstock, 67), a metallurgical engineer also from Ukraine. Yakov Faytlin, 72, is a Birmingham photographer. Illyah Dakhmutsay, 67, a Realtor, was a champion boxer back in Ukraine. While waiting for a turn at the table, he burns off his raw egg breakfast with warm-up boxing routines.

Sasha Shakhim, 72, enjoys eating 62 homemade Chinese barbecue ribs from Hong Kong Ken Wong, 62, a mechanical engineer, the only non-Jewish player we have.

Myron Stein, a teacher, provides movie reviews. Lou Brown, 72, a retired teacher and opera buff, who displays his collectibles and memorabilia at the Royal Oak Farmer’s Market, shares CDs from the 1930s that are played on a boom box for ambience. It’s contagious. Now I listen to Big Band music at home. So long, Talking Heads.

Sy, Lou and Bob formed a Tuesday night poker group. For one of Sy’s big birthdays, and he’s had plenty, I bought him a sweatshirt that says, “Ping Pong, Poker, Porn.” His daughter-in-law wouldn’t let him out of the house wearing it, so he keeps it in his locker and wears it here. I hope Stacy’s not reading this.

I traded in my tennis racket for a paddle. The solo woman, I’m just one of the guys.

We slice and dice. We remember; we forget — but never the score. We laugh together, cry together. At closing time, when I say, “Bye, guys; I’m going home,” Fred says, “Hey, girl, you are home.”

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