In the old days of mah jongg — in the 1920s, when the game became a craze in the United States, not when it originated in China centuries ago — the pastime was often used as a fundraiser by Jewish women, who quickly embraced the game.
On Sunday, the game returned to its roots.
About five dozen players, nearly all women, took part in the first Mah Jongg Marathon at the Museum of Jewish-Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Lower Manhattan. The event, which raised about $5,000 for the Museum, was held in conjunction with the Project Mah Jongg exhibit that closes on Feb. 27.
With mah jongg sets brought from home and provided by the museum, the participants, from pre-teens to senior citizens, played for six hours and snacked on traditional foods like nonpareils and, ironically, bridge mix. “It was pretty hard hearing over the clicking of tiles,” says Betsy Aldredge, the Museum’s public relations manager.
Mah Jongg’s popularity in this country waned after the 1920s, but it remained popular in Jewish circles; synagogue sisterhoods and Hadassah chapters often used games as fund-raising chapters, which made it a natural for the museum. “We thought it was a good fit,” Aldredge says.
Although the exhibit will be gone next year, the Mah Jongg Marathon will probably be held every year, because of popular demand, Aldredge says. “We plan to do it again. It’s probably in the cards … or in the tiles.”