the schmooze


Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

     True or False?

1.  In every Jewish home there's someone
     who has an innate sense of how long to
     cook the holiday brisket.     T   F

2.  Traditional Jewish homes have a pushke,
     a small box/container with a coin slot
     used to collect money for a charitable
     organization.                        T  F

3.  In every Jewish home there's a sign
     which reads:  THE BEST MEDICINE IS
     CHICKEN SOUP.                    T  F

4.  In every Jewish home there's one
     10 year-old who can program the
     iPod.                                       T  F

5.  In every Jewish home we can find at
     least one MahJongg set.       T  F

6.  U. S. Rep., Robert Wexler, said that
     Barach Obama would try to convert
     [Jewish] voters one Mah-Jongg table
     at a time...                               T  F

7.  There's a legend that Noah played
     MahJongg on his ark during the Biblical
     flood.                                       T  F

     All of the above statements are true!

     MahJongg is a game that has been played in China since about 500 B.C.  It is now played in many parts of the world. The game has become as much a part of Jewish life as Chinese food.

     Polina Olsen ("The Jewish Review, 9/25/08), says, "The Chinese took 1,000 years to develop one way to play MahJongg:  the Jews took one year to develop 1,000 ways."

     How do you account for the popularity of MahJongg?  Perhaps the close proximity of tenement life--the way most women were home during the day--the passage of tradition from mother to "tuchter" (daughter), is one possible explanation. The game has gotten many women through tough times.  This comaraderie is documented in the video, "Mah-Jongg--The Tiles That Bind."  The video focuses on both Asian- and Jewish-American women
who play the game.

"Mah-jongg helped us get through bad times, through the Depression, through times without jobs, through illness, through loss of a loved one, and that was very important," says some avid players on the video.

Linda Kline,  MahJongg player, says that she came home from school every day to her mother's clicking tiles and swore she'd never play the game.  "Now I really like it," she says.  "It's reminiscent of our youth, watching our mothers play, but it's also a common ground for women to get together."

For those unfamiliar ith the game, the basic tiles contain three suits--dots ("pintlekh" in Yiddish), bams ("bambu") and cracks/craks ("shpaltn").  The other tiles are dragons ("drakonen"), winds, flowers ("blimen") and jokers "zhokers").

By picking and discarding, you make specific combinations, which correspond to certain hands.  The hands are printed on a card every player must own.  Each year a new card is sold that shows the year, and different game (hands) are on those cards. This makes it more interesting.

Varda Grinspan ("Der Bay", The International Anglo-Yiddish Newspaper, Dec. 2007) provides some useful MahJongg expressions in Yiddish:

   "Lomir shpiln"               Let's play
   "Nem a kakhl"               Take a tile
   "Varf avek"                    Discard
   "Tsumish di kakhlen"    Mix the tiles
   "Makh a vant"                Make a wall

American MahJongg is considered a Jewish game, as many American MahJongg players are of Jewish descent, and the NMJL was founded by Jewish players; it's considered a Jewish organization.

The Sun-Sentinel (Dec. 26, 2003) says that Mah-Jongg is played in retirement communities across Florida.  Game experts say the game has increased in popularity among men.

Yes, the game is no longer relegated to Hadassah/Sisterhood/Brandeis gatherings and bubbe's "voyntsimer"(living room).  It's no longer an "old-lady's game."

Elaine Sandberg of Los Angeles, is a MahJongg instructor and has taught the game for Holland American Cruise Lines and at American Jewish University.  She is hoping to help MahJongg crack age and racial barriers.

Perhaps you remember Eddie Cantor's singing the song, "Since Ma is Playing Mah Jong."  The decorative cover features a picture of Cantor, one of the most popular entertainers of the time.  The song was about a non-Chinese family that's corrupted by Mah Jong; it turns the wife into a Chinese and she wears a kimono--which is not Chinese--plays mah jongg, starts cooking Chinese food and it drives the husband so crazy that he wants to kill
"chinks."  Yes, this was ugly racism at its worst.

So, now for the "shlecht" (bad) news:

A study by doctgors in Hong Kong has concluded that epilepsy can be induced by the Chinese tile game of mahjong.  The findings were based on 23 cases of people who had suffered mahjong-induced seizures.

The study led the doctors to define mahjong epilepsy as a unique syndrome.

Epileptic seizures can be provoked by a wide variety of triggers, but one cause increasingly evident to researchers is the playing--or even watching--of mahjong.  The doctors concluded that the syndrome affects far more men than women; that their average age is 54; and that it can hit sufferers anywhere between one to 11 hours into a mahjong game.  They say the attacks were not just caused by sleep deprivation or gambling stress

Mahjong is cognitively demanding, drawing on memory, fast calculations, concentration, reasoning and sequencing.

The distinctive design of mahjong tiles, and the sound of the tiles crashing onto the table, may contribute to the syndrome.

So, what's the bottom line?  The only sure way to avoid mahjong epilepsy, is to avoid mahjong, which for many people is easier said than done.

"Me zol nit visn fun azoyne tsores."
(We shouldn't know about such troubles.)


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

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