Over the past several weeks, I’ve received many messages from people who met lifelong friends and even spouses at camp. But mahjong buddies is a new one, until now.

Jen Faber enrolled at Camp Pembroke in 1978. In 2021, she’s planning a Hanukkah mahjong get-together with her long-time pals, who reconnected over the tiles to form a deep, meaningful bond. Here’s her story.

“I started camp in 1978. By 1980, the rest of the girls were there. We’ve all known one another since we were between 8 and 11. Some of us became co-counselors. I was there for nine years; some girls were there for 13.

“There was a smattering of keeping in touch over the years; some of us lost touch since we left camp in the early ’90s. About five or six years ago, one of the women who I had been in touch with got back in touch because our daughters go to camp; we’re camp moms. We had a reunion over the summer and played mahjong.

“I’d been playing for 17 years weekly with women in Mansfield, and some of the others wanted to learn how to play. I first started playing when my daughter was in diapers and my youngest was 2. I’d leave her with my husband every Monday night. In fact, now, if I don’t play on a Monday night, he’ll be like, ‘Aren’t you playing tonight?’ It’s a way to stay connected.

Camp Pembroke in 1978 (Courtesy photo)

“So I was like, ‘I’ll teach you!’ We put the date on the calendar. There were six of us. Mahjong is not something you can teach just once. So I knew that it would be something we did a couple of times. And I never, in a million years, thought this would turn into anything other than teaching them to play twice. So I taught them, and we ate dinner and everyone brought something—a make-your-own salad bar. And then, a couple weeks later, I taught them to play again, and then we really liked being together once a month.

“We have become so close as a group. I was thinking about it: Camp brought us together, but mahjong is what’s keeping us together. We’ve been playing monthly for five or six years now. I get to see my camp friends every single month. People ask, ‘What are you doing tonight?’ I’m like, ‘I’m going to play mahjong with my camp friends!’

“I didn’t go to their weddings. We weren’t around when each other’s kids were born. So we kind of came back together at a point when our kids were anywhere from maybe a 6-year-old to high school. And now, if I miss one, I miss them. It’s just a different relationship. You live with camp people. It’s a different level of intimacy. You might have that with sorority sisters.

“The actual physical game is like our grandmothers all played with tiles. Once upon a time, it was something only your grandmother played, right? Everybody has memories of their grandmothers and the clicking of the tiles and all of that. The sisterhood at my synagogue just put out: Who wants to learn to play? I was kind of looking for that connection. What mahjong gives you is a social connection. It gives you a social outlet. You actually have to use your brain, which is nice. My brain literally hurts at the end of the night.

“We have this commonality to our background that’s also bringing us forward in the way we approach our marriages and the way we raise our children. All of our kids have had their bat or bar mitzvah. Everybody belongs to a synagogue. You don’t get that in other places. Even my friends from home, whom I met through this synagogue, most of them have dropped out of our group by now. But these women have that kind of connection to Judaism, too.

“Next month, we’re having our annual Hanukkah party. Someone’s bringing latkes! We don’t play on the night before Rosh Hashanah because everyone’s celebrating that. We just have that connection. I can’t explain it. My soul is filled by being with them.”


Find a directory of Jewish overnight camps here.