Barbara Sofer

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The Human Spirit: Jerusalem seen through the board

By Barbara Sofer

January 6, 2017

With winter weather keeping us indoors, I've been playing Jerusalem Monopoly. The newest version of the veteran game came out before Hanukka, and I bought half a dozen sets. The purchase felt right, conveying a holiday message to family and friends at a time when our historical roots to our homeland are being challenged. A little heavy-handed, perhaps, but in the end, just a game.

Like many American-born youngsters, I grew up playing Monopoly. Long negotiations over property exchanges occupied us Connecticut cousins on the wall-to-wall carpet, while our parents, aunts and uncles discussed real life around the dining-room table.

Monopoly is based on the Landlord's Game, patented in 1903 by Elizabeth J. Magie of Macomb, Illinois. Magie was a short-story and poetry writer, a comedian, stage actress, feminist, engineer and newspaper reporter. To win in the original game, you need to bankrupt your opponents. A less aggressive, modern version has been developed in which you have only to complete a passport.

Monopoly had an alleged role in espionage. In 1941, the British Secret Intelligence Service ordered the local manufacturer to create an edition for World War II POWs held by the Nazis. Hidden inside were maps, compasses and genuine cash for escaping. The games were distributed to prisoners by make-believe charities.

Jerusalem Monopoly, only a few weeks old, is a joint venture of American toy giant Hasbro with our local Kodkod game manufacturers.

Hasbro was originally the brothers Hillel, Herman and Henry Hassenfeld, scrap textile dealers. The brothers found themselves with an excess of book-binding cloth. First they turned it into pencil boxes and then into toys and games.

Kodkod has an interesting history, too. In Romania, founder Ephraim Hertzano sold toothbrushes and turned the country's popular rummy card game into one made of plastic tiles. When Hertzano made aliya, he brought his idea for Rummikub with him. It's Kodkod's premier product, with the company still producing its games, not in China but in Arad, and exporting to 56 countries.

Although you may read that Jerusalem Monopoly was issued to mark the 50th anniversary of the reunification of our city, that's not true, according to marketing director Eli Dgani. Kodkod, which usually receives games from abroad and converts them to fit the local market, has been offering this game to Hasbro for years. Its acceptance by the rigorous screening only coincidentally coincides with the reunification anniversary. No political statement is intended.

Nothing can be totally apolitical in this part of the world. In its short existence on local shelves, the game has been criticized for being marketed to appeal to Jewish citizens and tourists. There is no property to be purchased on Salah a-Din Street or in Silwan, and no stops at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as you pass go.

In an attempt to avoid politics or playing favorites, the company got a ready-made list of the most popular tourist sites from the Jerusalem Municipality and based its choices on those, says Dgani. The placements on the board and money values are also neutral, he says. "Who can place a price on sites in Jerusalem?" Nonetheless, Dgani's phone has been ringing with suggestions about how Kodkod can improve the game. "That's the Israeli way," he says. "Everyone feels part." Jerusalemites also phone to express their pride.

The game works on the old bankrupt- your-fellow-player principle. You need luck, of course, to land on the right properties. But strategy counts, too. (Tip: Always buy the most landed- on property of Illinois Avenue, here represented by the well-traveled outdoor market Mahaneh Yehuda.)

My personal complaint is the ubiquity of tombs in this family game: David's and Herzl's lead off the board; Mount of Olives Cemetery holds the expensive blue Park Place spot. There are also rather odd groupings: The Israel Museum, the First Station, and the Western Wall are in the orange group.

Dgani shrugs off the objections. The mayor's tourism experts chose the sites that made the cut.

Despite my quibbling, I found myself enjoying the game, surrounded by grandchildren who were quick to snap up the Israel Museum, the Biblical Zoo and the City of David – all places they know and love. Instead of the meaningless St. James Place and Ventnor Avenue of Atlantic City, they bargained over the Knesset and Mamilla Mall, where one of my sons lit the giant Chabad Talbiyeh hanukkia this year.

Monopoly isn't just about going around a board, but about building – homes and hotels – and consolidating areas of the city. Unconstrained by political opinions or zoning, you can ramp up neighborhoods and add hotels to tourist sites.

In addition to the usual "Get out of jail free" unhappily resonating with current events, and the Advance to Go and collect NIS 200," you can earn Community Chest cash for getting an honorary doctorate at the Hebrew University, or spend cash giving tzedaka on the way to the Western Wall. You might lose a turn because of the Jerusalem Marathon, because a zebra has escaped from the Biblical Zoo, or because the street is torn up for an archeological dig.

I heard one of my granddaughters tell her mother that I'd declared I would buy the Western Wall, even if I had to go into debt. I don't remember saying it, but am glad I did.



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