The Story of Five Menopausal, Southern, Jewish Women Playing Mah Jongg and One Gay Son
Washington, DC, October 5, 2005 — In 1920, when Arlene Feld was a toddler, Joseph P. Babcock imported Mah Jongg sets to America in bulk. In 1937, when Hanna Shimmer, Florence Kennof, Rona Sapperstein and Doreen Weiner were in grammar school, 32 enthusiasts met in New York City to standardize the game of Mah Jongg, so all players would play the same hands and by the same rules. At that meeting, The National Mah Jongg League was born. Each year, the league changes the hands and rules to keep the game fresh and frustrate Mah Jongg players everywhere.
For these women, life revolves around the weekly Mah Jongg game, where they shmooze, gossip, advise, listen, learn, relate, laugh, cry, curse, and eat. For five middle-aged, Jewish women in Newport News, Virginia, it was their weekly game that held them together for almost forty years, but it was one event-filled year that drastically affected all of them and threatened the one thing that kept them together — Mah Jongg.
Previewed on Rosh ha-Shana, pre-released on Sukkot, and officially released on Simchat Torah 5766, “On Tuesdays, They Played Mah Jongg” tells the story of Michael Bern, a gay television writer in Hollywood, who for two decades has stared at an unfinished screenplay sitting on his desk. After attending a friend’s funeral in his hometown of Newport News, Virginia, Michael returns to Hollywood and finds there is more than a screenplay that is unfinished in his life. He finally confronts what the screenplay represents — memories and stories of the sometimes sad, often hilarious, characters of his past, especially his mother and her four closest friends. Florence, Hannah, Rona, Arlene and Doreen — five more fascinating, menopausal, Jewish women one would never meet. They were friends for more than forty years and saw each other through life’s triumphs, tragedies and multiple spouses. Yet, there was only one constant in their lives. On Tuesdays, they played Mah Jongg.
Lie down, relax and take a trip back to 1985 in Newport News, Virginia, as we relive the story of an unfinished screenplay, five menopausal Jewish women and one strange year — “On Tuesdays, They Played Mah Jongg.”
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