Mah-Jonng Set

In Fun
1950's Mah-Jonng Set
1950's Mah-Jonng Set

My father’s family immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s from Russia and Poland. They were in search of a better life, escaping religious persecution. After arriving in Galveston, TX they settled in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Queens, NY. I have memories of visiting my grandparent’s apartment in Sunnyside; particularly my grandmother’s weekly Mah-Jong gathering. I vividly remember the smell of her cooking, coffee brewing and Chanel No.5, her perfume for ‘special occasions’. During Maj-Jong,  my sister and I were relegated to the guest room. Nothing intrigued us more than peeking into the dining room to watch my grandmother and her friends laughing, kibitzing and listening to the sound of the Mah-Jong tiles clicking in a frenzy! I wondered how a group of Jewish women from Queens ended up playing a parlor game with origins from China.  Historians suggest that Jews who fled Nazi Europe and made it to Shanghai got involved in local culture and adopted the game. Once those refugees immigrated to America in the mid-20th century, they brought Mah-Jong with them.Now, I realize Mah-Jong was more than a frivolous form of entertainment for my grandmother. Many friendships developed from it. My grandmother played for years with the same people. They shared life events–marriage and divorce, the birth of children and grandchildren. My grandmother’s Mah-Jong set is neatly tucked away in a safe place. I am forever thankful to have this small piece of her with me. It connects me to my Jewish identity and rekindles fond memories of my grandmother and my childhood.

Place(s): Queens, New York; Stamford, CT
Year: 1929


Relationship:  Grandchild of im/migrant Grandchild of im/migrant