The craze, which began in the 1920s, was a novel form of entertainment for a new leisure class and paralleled a middle-class taste for Asian-style interior decoration as well as a “Jewish interest in Chinese food,” says Melissa Martens, the curator of “Project Mah Jongg,” an extensive exhibit opening at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on May 4 and continuing through December.(NOTE: Now extended through February 27, 2011).
It promises to be a distinctive cultural examination of the game and an opportunity to intimately engage with the ritualistic aspects of mah-jongg, which is enjoying a resurgence through mah-jongg social groups and on the Web (like online mah-jongg solitaire).
Mah-jongg is a game of chance and skill similar to gin rummy, in which each of four players is dealt either 13 or 16 pictographic tiles of different suits. The players then take turns drawing and discarding tiles, with a goal of making four or five combinations of tiles, or melds, and one pair, or head. It was a favorite among Catskill resort habitués and played incessantly by Eastern European immigrant Jewish women in the 1930s.