By Jill Fox
When people hear the term Mah Jongg, they tend to think of a group of older Jewish ladies sitting around a card table shouting words like “bam” and “crack.”
But, the traditional Chinese parlor game is making a comeback among a new generation of players, still with one common goal in mind– to assemble a winning combination of tiles over tasty snacks and occasional gossip.
Mah Jongg — or Maahj, as those in the know refer to it — is a fascinating, rummy-like game played with tiles rather than cards. Originating in China in the late 1800s, the game was later standardized so all players would abide by the same rules, and play the same hands, which change every year.
For whatever reason, the game of skill, and a little luck, has remained a fixture in the Jewish world since the 1920s.
Although it gets a bad rap, a person doesn’t have to be a Jewish senior or a Chinese man to play Mah Jongg. In today’s day and age, the game is played by women of all ages, and on a variety of handheld devices.
Michelle, mom to Sienna, 3 and Jordan, 6, said her 95-year-old grandmother still plays Mah Jongg and gave her set to her daughter, who then passed in on to Michelle.
“My mom taught a group of six or seven of us to play, and we’re carrying on the tradition,” said Michelle.
Although the domino-like tiles stamped with Chinese characters can be seen at most assisted living facilities, you can also hear the sound of the tiles in homes, clubhouses, and even the local coffee shop.
Parkland’s own Carmela Coffee has jumped on the bandwagon holding Mah Jongg nights as often as the women are willing.
Owner, Ranier Abreu offers a glass of wine and a sampling of their delicious paninis and avocado toast for just $10 a person. Tables of Parkland moms come with their card tables, and Mah Jongg sets for an evening filled with friends, food, and fun.
Amy, mom to Tyler, 7, has been playing in a weekly Mah Jongg game at Parkland Golf & Country Club for two years.
She said, “We play during the day at the clubhouse, but it’s nice to switch it up and have some adult time and meet nice people at Carmela.”
At the coffee shop, one might observe a variety of sparkly sets, very different than those their grandmothers used. But even though times have changed, inflation hasn’t done much for Mah Jongg games. A big win will only garner a mere 25 or 50 cents.
So, if it’s not about the money, what has these women hooked?
Whether it’s the friendships, the wine, the coffee or the tiles, generation after generation, women keep coming back to play the game.
“We want to give the community, especially moms a place to do what they enjoy, and have a night off,” said Abreu, “The diversity of events is important to us; we like to have something for everyone.”
Interested players of any level should attend Carmela’s next Mah Jongg night on Monday, March 16, at 7 p.m. For more information, visit facebook.com/groups/ParklandMahJongg.
Carmela Coffee Company is located at 7967 North University Drive in Parkland.
- Jill Fox is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer. She has worked in public relations and television for over 20 years. Fox lives in Parkland with her husband and their two children.