Adding entertainment and education to the Shabbat table didn’t happen overnight for Shabbat Showdown game creator David Zoller. The deck of Jewish-themed trivia cards evolved organically as Zoller helped his children with their studies. “My kids were coming home from their third and fourth grade day-school classes with so much knowledge. I realized that by asking them questions, I was learning, too.”
Zoller, who is from New Orleans, did not grow up in an observant Jewish home. When he arrived on the University of Arizona campus and pledged the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, he was impressed by the number of Jewish students. Zoller says he met “more Jews than I had ever seen. I love Tucson and the Jewish community was very welcoming.”
Inspired by his roommate in the fraternity, and activities such as raising money for the UA Hillel Foundation through events like underwater backgammon, Zoller began learning more about Judaism. “I grew up in a really Reform household. My parents were more activist than religious,” said Zoller. However, it wasn’t until a Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas “minyan mission” in 1995 that he began to embrace a more observant lifestyle. “There were 440 people. It was my first experience with a Modern Orthodox trip. It was my first time wrapping tefillin. It was the first time I was called to the Torah.”
After a divorce, Zoller and his children began to share Shabbat dinner with another divorced father whose children went to school with Zoller’s children at Akiba Academy in Dallas, in an effort to create an environment where Shabbat could become an “island in time” for all of them. “The school sent home questions every week to help the kids study. We decided to to start asking the questions at the Shabbat dinner table. Pretty soon, it became a game for all of us. I started to say ‘Welcome to this week’s edition of … Shabbat Showdown!’“
Working with Rabbi Joe Hirsch of Akiba Academy, Zoller created the Trivial Pursuit-style game to “play, discuss and learn” at the Shabbat table. “When we started to develop the formal game, we created 20 questions for each Parsha. We realized that was a little too detailed, so we narrowed it down to a deck of cards with questions in four categories: Shabbat/ Holidays, Mitzvot, People/Heroes, and Tefilla (Prayer).” Shabbat Showdown follows traditional trivia game rules, with a few Shabbat-friendly twists so that players of all levels of observance can participate. Players make their own buzzer sounds, and the game rules include a suggestion that “players may keep their own score by placing a bookmark in any book (or bentcher) on the page that equals their current score.”
The game is available online at www.ShabbatShowdown.com for $12 per deck, plus $2.95 shipping (discounts available for 12 or more decks). Zoller contends that while the average seventh grade day-school student could answer 70 percent of the questions, it’s an ideal game for people ages 4 to 120 and makes a great gift. “If you are invited to Shabbat dinner,” he says, “instead of bringing a bottle of wine, bring Shabbat Showdown.”
Laura Wilson Etter is a freelance journalist, grant writer and artist in Tucson.