We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.


When I was growing up, my two favorite computer games were Hardball, a baseball game in which the players looked (and ran) like carrot sticks, and Shanghai, a lo-tech mah-jongg simulator. Unfortunately, I have lost track of the floppy disk that held the latter piece of ’80s software magic, so it appears that my childhood love will die with me. But it seems the future of noncomputer mah-jongg is a bit safer. The Ethels and Minnies featured in the short film Mah-Jongg: The Tiles That Bind might have hands dotted with liver spots, but those seemingly weak appendages hold those little plastic tiles with a viselike grip. The reminiscences of these lifelong players and their children reveal the social history of the game in the Jewish community. As in much of Jewish culture, this chatter often circles back to food—what was eaten, how much, when, and by whom. There’s some discussion of the game’s importance in Chinese-American communities and its rise in popularity in the ’20s—supposedly the plastic-tile-making factories were cranking 24/7/365—but the film neglects to explain how mah-jongg made its way to the Upper West Side. It’s bewildering that the filmmakers aren’t much interested in the mechanics of this cross-cultural migration, a subject far more compelling than the smell of mom’s old tiles. Regardless, it’s always fun to hear an old woman say, “I find it very stimulating.” As will you. The film screens at 7 p.m. Monday, April 7, at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center’s Goldman Theater, 16th and Q Streets NW. $13. (202) 777-3248. (Josh Levin)