JMM Insights May 2014: Project Mah Jongg & Education

Posted on May 9th, 2014 by

Since the successful opening of Project Mah Jongg, The Education and Programs Department has planned some wonderful programming for adults in connection with the exhibit.  We’re particularly excited for our Mother’s Day Mah Jongg Madness event this Sunday and our upcoming “The Art of Mah Jongg” talk with Robert Mintz, chief curator at The Walters Art Gallery on Sunday June 8th.
In addition to our Sunday programs we have been delighted to welcome a charming stream of mah jongg mavens to the Museum. These groups of ladies are coming down to the JMM during our early morning opening hours; often armed with their  own mahj sets and accoutrements for play (if you’re looking for a few mah jongg themed items yourself, don’t worry, our museum shop has got you covered!).  It seems that the ladies are making the JMM a destination for the day (something we highly recommend).  The first order of the day, of course, is visiting our special exhibit Project Mah Jongg; then it’s a leisurely browse through the Museum shop and a visit to the neighborhood for lunch only to head back to the lobby for some intense game play, and then finish up the day taking advantage of the synagogue tours – a full day indeed!

Talmudic Academy 2014

Talmudic Academy 2014

While these lovely ladies are a natural audience for all things mah jongg, the challenge of the exhibit for our department was how to present Project Mah Jongg to school groups? Learning to play mah jongg can be challenging and we couldn’t actually teach a group of students how to play the game in twenty minutes. Mah jongg takes practice to really understand the strategies and even just learning the different symbols on the tiles takes time. We knew we needed to develop an experiential learning opportunity – a way for students to engage and apply academic understandings through hands-on experience, while simultaneously learning new information about the world around them.

Younger students learning at play.

Younger students learning at play.

For inspiration, we turned to the mah jongg handbook. We started by looking for key words that described the game, keeping in mind that students from third to twelfth grade would need to understand.  Success! First we had to familiarize students with the building blocks of the game: the tiles! So we concentrated on the basic symbols – bams, craks, dots and jokers.  Then we tackled math concepts: doubles, triples, quads and quints, consecutive, sequence – a perfect way to fuse classroom learning with the basics of how to win at mah jongg.  From there we developed a hands-on experience where the students could actually play a modified version of the game and apply simple math strategies.  Younger students were given Mah Jongg Mats where players take turns picking tiles, working to complete their mats using the new math concepts that were introduced earlier.  Older students were given a modified card for mah jongg play and used rules similar to the card game “rummy,” using the mah jongg tiles to mimic the different types of hands for play on the “card.” In this way we elevated game playing into an exercise in set theory and critical thinking skills.

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Project Mah Jongg really pushed us to think creatively with our educational activities and we were nervous – would the students understand?  Would they be engaged and enjoy playing the modified version of the game?  Well, we are excited to report that the students and their teachers have all commented how much fun Mah Jongg is!  Both versions of the game are proving to be popular – most students really seem to enjoy playing with their friends. All of our teacher evaluations have indicated a positive feedback for the exhibits and the engaging learning activities connected to our exhibits.  The teachers for both the younger and older grades have even inquired as to where they can obtain sets to bring back to the classroom!

ileneA blog post by Ilene Dackman-Alon, Education Director. To read more posts from Ilene, click here.

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Life of a Collections Intern

Posted on August 6th, 2013 by

Clare RobbinsA blog post by Collections Intern Clare Robbins. Clare works under the supervision of Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink. To read more posts by Clare and other JMM interns, click here.

I cannot believe that this is my last week here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.  The summer has gone by so quickly!  I’ve learned so much, and am incredibly grateful for the experience.  One of my primary tasks for the summer was to process the objects from the 2012-2013 collections.  So for my last blog post, I decided to highlight some of the interesting new additions to the museum’s collection.

One of the first objects I catalogued was a thin brown rope. This rope was worn around Susie Williams Gaumer’s waist when she was a nursing student at Sinai in the 1950s.  The Sinai nursing students spent three months at Sheppard Pratt Hospital for their psychiatric training where all of the doors were locked and needed keys for entry. They wore this rope with the keys around our waist under their uniform. The rope came out of a designated space in their uniform at the waist. By keeping the keys inside their uniforms the nurses could ensure that the patients did not get the keys

Rope used by Sinai nursing students to keep the hospital keys safe, 2012.117.1

Rope used by Sinai nursing students to keep the hospital keys safe, 2012.117.1

Edmart, a Jewish Deli in the Baltimore area, also donated several items this past year, including this cigar box wrapped in red tin foil.  The cigar box came from the cigar shop across the street from Edmart.  Marty Lev wrapped the cigar box in red foil to be used as a display stand

Cigar box used as a display case at Edmart, 2012.121.2

Cigar box used as a display case at Edmart, 2012.121.2

Edmart also donated several signs like this one that advertises Edmart sandwiches at Camden Yards

Edmart sign, 2012.121.11

Edmart sign, 2012.121.11

Another fun item is this t-shirt worn by our very own Deborah Cardin when her father, Ben Cardin, ran for Maryland House of Delegates in 1974

Cardin’s t-shirt, 2013.5.1

Cardin’s t-shirt, 2013.5.1

We also received a set of six Mah Jong button covers  that was purchased at a Senior Expo in Montgomery County

Mah Jong button covers, 2012.127.1

Mah Jong button covers, 2012.127.1

And in anticipation for the upcoming football season, I leave you with this Baltimore Ravens t-shirt that says “Wacko for Flacco” in Hebrew

Go Ravens! 2013.24.1

Go Ravens! 2013.24.1

 

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Mah Jongg Madness!

Posted on December 22nd, 2011 by

A blog post by Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink.

I’ve long been fascinated by the beautiful tiles of the MahJongg set, but I’ve never had the patience to sit down and learn the rules. Will 2012 be the year that I learn how to play?

A few months ago I was catching up with my hometown friend Vivian. With the last names Ng and Okin, we were together in alphabetical homeroom throughout high school, and there was plenty to catch up on at our reunion. I asked about her family and she mentioned that her mother was playing MahJongg. Excitedly I asked, “Is your mother Jewish?” Vivian looked at me like I had lost my mind—or hadn’t ever met her mom—and said “She’s Chinese.” Right! I knew that. Somehow I had forgotten that MahJongg is a traditional Chinese game and not a specifically Jewish game.  Since it’s about a 4 hour drive back to Ringwood, I decided NOT to ask Vivian if her mother would teach me how to play the game.

Jobi and her high school friends Tim, Vivian and Heather.

A few years ago former JMM Curator Melissa Martens curated “Project Mah Jongg” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Her exhibition text explained that May Jongg was “introduced to American audiences by Joseph P. Babcock who began importing sets en masse around 1922, the game delighted players with its beautifully adorned tiles, associations with other lands, and mysterious rules…. In the post-war years, the game was embraced enthusiastically throughout circles of Eastern European Jewish women and became a favorite activity of bungalow colonies of the Catskills. Mahjongg became an entertainment ritual in suburban Jewish homes—where it has been lovingly transfixed in the memories of the contemporary generation. Today, hundreds of thousands of people play mahjongg, and it continues to be a vital part of communal, personal, and cultural life.” [http:///projectmahjongg.com/about.html]

The exhibition was beautiful and delightful, but I didn’t have enough time to sit down and learn the rules. Check out this slide show of others playing MahJongg.

Then last week at our Collections Committee meeting Board Member Irene Russel mentioned that she plays MahJongg with her girlfriends every Tuesday night. I practically invited myself over to play!

Barbara Marlin, Sheila Derman, Myra Gershon, Irene Russel play a regular game of Mah Jongg.

Instead, I think I will come to the JMM on Christmas Day for our event Chanukah, Christmas, and all things Chinese and learn the basics. I hope to see you there.

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