Several men from Omaha’s Beth El Synagogue formed a twice-a-month poker club in the early 1960s after they returned home from the Korean War.
Membership in the Every Other Tuesday Poker Group has changed over the years as men have died or moved away, but the club’s activities remain steadfast.
About eight members take turns hosting the group for nonalcoholic beverages, end-of-the-evening eats and low-stakes card games. Six or seven show up each time. Only one club founder — 90-year-old Elliot Brown — is still a member.
“It’s not for a lot of money,” said Harold Kosowsky, 81, who’s been in the group for at least 15 years. “We found that if you have too much money, people can be jealous, and it can break up a good friendship. The most you can lose is $5. It’s mostly just to get together.”
It also has a philanthropic side. At each game, the guys throw a buck into a charity pot. On the anniversary of a club member’s death, they send $18 to the synagogue. This year, they donated the same amount to The World-Herald’s Goodfellows campaign.
In the Jewish faith, $18 is the traditional amount donated to worthy causes. The letter that starts the word “charity” is the 18th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Kosowsky explained.
Food time is one of the highlights of each meeting, and it’s also the time the guys decide where to send their donations. Somebody will throw out a name, and discussion ensues.
They agreed on Goodfellows because it helps a lot of different people, Kosowsky said. The charity provides one-time emergency aid such as rent deposits or utility payments for local residents who find themselves in a bind. It also has a holiday meal voucher program and partners with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to help parents buy back-to-school socks, underwear and T-shirts for their kids. The World-Herald pays all administrative costs, so donations go directly to recipients.
The guys also have given to the Salvation Army and various disaster relief campaigns, among other charities.
Kosowsky said group members range from their mid-60s to the 90-year-old Brown, who’s still “a very good poker player,” even though he can’t see or hear as well as he used to.
“He puts the cards up to his eyes,” Kosowsky said.
When someone leaves or dies, members suggest someone to take their place.
No woman has ever been a member, though a couple of daughters have sat in on games when their dads hosted.
Wives are OK being on the sidelines, Kosowsky said.
“They’re probably glad to get rid of us,” he said. “My wife calls all the relatives that night.”
Sometimes, they even make the food, though not always. Club members cook, too, he said.
“When it’s the guys, it’s something really difficult, like warming up a pizza.”