Four bam? Four crack? Four dot? No …


Four generations of Mah-Jongg players

Zoey Joering, left, great grandmother Ruth Ackerman, Wendy Joering, grandmother Rhonda White, Eva Joering /Wendy JoeringAs a child, I remember falling asleep one night each week to the rhythmic sounds of clinking tiles and ladies laughing and the smell of yummy baked goods. They were older to me – my mom’s age – which is younger than I am now! My mom has had her weekly Mah-Jongg group and has played for as long as I can remember. And my grandmother, my mother’s mother, has played for as long as my mother can remember.

About five years ago, a bunch of my friends and I decided to learn how to play. We sat in my good friend Randi’s kitchen in Providence. It was about 8:30 on a Monday night. We all thought – how hard could this be? – we’ll teach ourselves. That theory did not last very long. About an hour into it, I was on the phone with my grandmother, who lived in New York at the time; my friend Lauri was on the phone with her mother, who also lived in New York; and Randi was on the phone with her mother-in-law Francine in Cranston. After about an hour of this, Francine said, “I’m coming over. I’ll be there in 20 minutes.” We had a blast and, over the next few months, we all learned how to play.

Not everyone in that group continued to play, but my passion remained and I play as often as I can with an amazing group of women at my synagogue. So, three generations playing – how wonderful. My mother moved to Rhode Island within the last year and plays weekly with a fabulous group of women who have been playing together for about 10 years – once in a while I play with them too! They have welcomed her and included her as if she has been with them from day one! My grandmother has since moved from New York to Warwick and she plays with her friends three times a week.

I do not get to play as much as I would like, but when the educational director of our synagogue asked if I wanted to volunteer my time Sunday mornings to teach the 4th and 5th graders how to play, I was thrilled! My friend Lisa and I started teaching last October and my daughter Zoey is in the class. I think the kids picked up the game a lot faster than the moms did five years ago. My younger daughter Eva has now expressed an interest in this longtime traditional Jewish pastime and I now can say that my family has four generations of Mah-Jongg players – pretty fabulous.

( is Community Concierge & Synagogue Liaison for The Jewish Alliance.

Editor’s notes: Although many variants exist, “Mah-Jongg” is the trademarked name of the game. It is of Chinese origin, usually played by four people, using 144 tiles. The tiles have graphic symbols, not unlike suits in English playing cards and players draw and discard tiles until a winning “hand” is completed.

The Jewish Voice interviewed Zoey Joering, a 10-year-old 4th-grader, the youngest Mah-Jongg player in the group. Excerpts follow:

Q. How’s it going – learning to play Mah-Jongg?

A. I’m just learning how to play, but I’m looking forward to playing with my mother, Grandma Rhonda and my Nana Ruthie.

Q. What are the lessons like?

A. I’ve learned all the things I need to know to make my hands.

Q. What do you think about all four generations playing Mah-Jongg?

A. The best thing is that it will be fun to all be together.