A friend recently sent me this article from The Jewish Journal. My only argument with the article is the suggestion that the game is ancient, perhaps dating back to Confucius. Alright, I’ll get into that pet peeve of mine on another day! Anyway, it’s a cute article. Enjoy…

How Mah-Jongg Became Jewish

December 12, 2014 | By

How Mah-Jongg Became JewishHow did a game that graced ancient Chinese tables (in the company, some posit, of Confucius) come to grace contemporary Jewish tables (in the company, perhaps, of babka and Slivovitz)?

While books, documentary films and traveling museum exhibits have puzzled over mah-jongg becoming such a Jewish craze, no one has reached a definitive answer. Could it be connected to the formation of the National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) by a group of Jewish women in 1937? Or to its popularity among Jewish wives during World War II while their men were away? Or the game’s prominence at Jewish bungalow colonies in the mid-20th century? Or else, as NMJL president Ruth Unger believes, that selling mah-jongg cards functioned as a fundraising source for synagogue sisterhoods and Hadassah chapters?

Whatever the reason, the game has remained a fixture in the Jewish world ever since it came to the U.S. in the 1920s. And even today, says Annelise Heinz, of Stanford University’s Department of History, the game is enjoying a Jewish renaissance. “Many of the Jewish daughters who once rejected mah-jongg are now returning to the game as a way to connect with their Jewish identities and rekindle memories of their mothers.”


I know I posted some similar articles last year but recently Johni Levene posted this on her new “Mah Jongg, That’s It” Facebook site (be sure to join – it’s really wonderful) and so I thought it might be time to post it again to remind us all that not only is our beloved Mah Jongg fun but it’s good for us too!

The Effects of Mahjong

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Mahjong can have powerful effects on improving memory.

Mahjong is the Chinese word for “sparrow,” and is a game of strategy and skill played with tiles featuring Chinese characters. It resembles the English card game Rummy. Four players construct a wall from tiles that is 18 tiles wide and 2 tiles high. Dice rolls determine the play order and each player takes 13 tiles from the wall into his hand with an extra tile for the east player, then collects and discards tiles in order to build sets of three. Mahjong is mental exercise that, according to recent psychiatric and cognitive behavioral studies, can have powerful effects on improving memory and reducing dementia. Mahjong is thus a highly effective and low-cost therapy that can be integrated into the daily routines of most institutions.

  1. Reduced Dementia

    • Hong Kong researchers found in a 2006 study that participants with a median age of over 83 years who met a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) diagnosis of dementia significantly improved after playing mahjong twice or four times per week over the course of 16 weeks. This was true for players in both experimental groups, regardless of the frequency of play. The study also showed that the effects lasted even a month after mahjong play stopped, demonstrating that the positive cognitive effects of mahjong are powerful and long-lasting after participants have reached a certain threshold of improvement.

    Lower Risk of Dementia

    • Mahjong not only reduces dementia already affecting patients, but additional studies show that mahjong reduces the risk of ever developing it in the first place. Research on different varieties of cognitive games demonstrates that those who regularly do crossword puzzles or play strategic and mentally stimulating games like bridge and mahjong have a far lower risk of developing dementia compared to their peers who perform non-stimulating activities like watching television.

    Verbal Memory

    • Mahjong is a visual game, and players need not be able to read or understand the Chinese characters written on the playing tiles in order to benefit from its positive cognitive effects. Interestingly, though mahjong does not necessarily involve reading or speaking, playing it improves verbal memory for players of all nationalities. Verbal memory refers to the ability to remember words and other abstracted concepts from language (like syntax). The 2006 Hong Kong study found that verbal memory was improved moderately to significantly for participants who played mahjong on a regular weekly basis.



So many of you were interested in this apron from yesterday’s blog – I spoke to Sandy and she told me that she bought it at a vendor at the Festival Market Place in Pompano Beach. However, they also have a website and a phone number. So, if you are interested in finding out more about this apron, go to www.pahandmahjongg.com or call 954.975.5838. 

My dear and very wonderful friend Sandy just returned from Florida. She invited me over for dinner this evening and greeted me with a package that she had brought back from her trip. She told me that she had seen this at a store and knew she had to buy it for me. How fabulous is this apron?!!!

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We are all buzzing about the new Facebook group, “Mah Jongg, That’s It.” On one of the first postings, Meredith told us the funniest story along with photos and she has generously given me permission to share it with all of you. Enjoy…

Meredith wrote, “I play with such a great group of ladies. We have started shaming ourselves in order to play better, complete with our “FEEBS” tiaras (which stands for feeble). And just to clarify the discarding feebs pictured below … They began by discarding a tile immediately after the Charleston. They were not East. When the true East discarded, the Feeb’s East was declared dead due to having only 12 tiles. If they had caught it before East discarded, they would have been fine. So far, our entire group has worn the FEEBS tiara at one time or another. (Some of us more than others!)”




As you probably know, I call Johni Levene the “Mah Jongg teacher extraordinaire”…and she is. Not only is she one of the top Mah Jongg teachers in the country – BTW, she is based in Los Angeles –  she is also extremely generous and giving with her thoughts on the game. Yesterday she posted something that I may have posted before but even if I did, I had to share it again with all of you – I love it! Thanks to my “sista” Johni:

ALSO…Johni has started a fantastic Facebook page called, “Mah Jongg, That’s It” and it is open to all Mah Jongg players. Knowing Johni as I do, I know this is going to be a fun place to “meet” and discuss everything Mah Jongg. You can join by going to https://www.facebook.com/groups/857265604318287/members/

I hope to see you there!!!


When I was in Boca Raton last month, on the last leg of my Florida book tour, a friend of Charlotte’s came to the Boca JCC to hear me speak. Unbeknownst to me, she took some photos and recently sent them to Charlotte to send to me. Thank you, Charlotte and Talia! I had no photos from that day and I so appreciate your thoughtfulness.

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