Building Community Tile By Tile

Dover Sherborn Mah Jongg Course Extends Beyond The Classroom

Nestled amidst the serene landscape and quiet streets of Dover, eight women embarked on a journey this Fall to learn the intricate game of American Mah Jongg through the Dover Sherborn Community Education Program. Though the focus of the program is to offer education within the community, Mah Jongg has a way of building community through education. 

“Mission accomplished! I am hopeful that the group will continue to stay in touch and build on our newly learned skills,” said student Carol Rosengarten. Ms.Rosengarten had signed up for the Mah Jongg class to meet new people and make friends, while learning a new skill. She recently retired from teaching, and has little family in the area. A number of students saw the course as an opportunity to connect with individuals they might not have met otherwise. Through Mah Jongg, they hoped to form new connections or strengthen old friendships by learning something new together.

American Mah Jongg, a derivative of the traditional Chinese tile game of skill and chance — similar to the game Rummy — is typically played with four people. The game is sociable, competitive, exciting and addictive. It also sharpens your memory, and it’s lots of fun. The class advertisement promised to teach students the basics — learn rules, identify tiles and play the game. But once the basic “rules of the road” are learned, Mah Jongg opens the potential for adult students to connect beyond the classroom to continue playing the game with friends they met in class and improve their skills.

One group of friends signed up for the course together. It brought them even closer by learning a new game they could continue to play after the course finished. 

“I have always wanted to learn to play Mah Jongg, so when a couple of girlfriends suggested we take a class I was all in,” said Kristen Gibbons. “The best surprise was meeting some fantastic new people and learning something that will bring new and old friends together.”  
Kathy Sveen added, “Lydia (the course instructor) introduced us to Mah Jongg in a fun, community setting. It was great to learn a new game which we can play for life, and to meet new people in the process." 

Though Mah Jongg is a lot of fun once mastered, the game has elaborate rules that can be frustrating to learn at first. The game requires concentration, cooperation and strategy.

"At our first class, Lydia warned us by saying we would want to quit many times, but DON’T,” said Dover resident, Alison Birmingham. “She was right, and I am so glad I stuck with it.”

The weekly classes became more than just lessons. The students’ shared interest in Mah Jongg became the cornerstone of a newfound camaraderie. They celebrated each other's victories, offered comfort in defeats, and eagerly anticipated the next class, not just for the game but for the companionship it brought.

“One of the best things about Mah Jongg class is just how challenging it can be,” said Gina Doyle. “At this stage, it takes all of my focus. The order and ritual of the game is a nice respite from the busy lives we all lead. It’s so much fun to try something new with friends, and Lydia has been so patient with us as we learn.” 

Course Instructor Lydia Borenstein, who teaches private and group lessons, said that she is driven to teach Mah Jongg by the opportunity to connect with like-minded people. She loves watching the process of experiencing the growth as “it all comes together” for her students and the knowledge that they will eventually play independently. Borenstein started teaching after building a Mah Jongg community in Worcester. She’s so inspired to share the “magic of Mah Jongg,” even if it means teaching an hour away for the Dover Sherborn program. She was thrilled when Lisa Sawin of Dover Sherborn Community Education contacted her through her website ( more than a year ago. Borenstein teaches using the National Mah Jongg League rules ( After teaching two sessions for the community education program, Lydia plans to continue leading the course for the 2024 spring session.

Dover Sherborn Community Education is a non-profit organization operated by Dover-Sherborn Public Schools (