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March 22, 2019     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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March 22, 2019

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PAGE 8A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 22, 2019 hMj' fun for and ents By Lisa Levine forit,"saidLevitt.Gamessuch yearly when the National as mahjong are especially Mahjong League releases a The clatter of a bagful of important for facility-bound card with many new possible mahjong tiles spilling onto seniors because they provide variations, the game is com- a table broke the quiet of continuityfromtheirprevious plicated and requires close the commons at Tuskawilla lives and also contribute to attention. "It's good for the Nursingand Rehab Center on preserving mental acuityand mind," said Meitin. "That's a recent Thursday morning, social engagement, why Ruth's 89 and she's still Jill Cousins had just arrived Levitt, herself a mahjong playing." and was catching up with her enthusiastwho has been play- "Almost 90, girly," Elison friend Ruth Elison, a nursing ing forabout 15years, decided reminded her playfully. home resident, as they began that since Elison could no AroundthetimethatElison setting up the game. Debbie longer travel to games, she moved to Tuskawilla Nurs- Meitin came next and imme- wouldbring the games to her. ing, Levitt got to know a new diately pitched in to set the And the Pavilion's "Mitzvah Jewish resident who had just dozens of tiles in place, Dale Maj" program was born. movedtoBrookdaleAltamon- Perreaultsooncompletedthe "It's a pleasure for us to te and was also a mahjong foursome Perreault, Meitin play with Ruth because we player. Levitt recruited more and Cousins are part of a pool know that it's such a pleasure volunteers to play with the ofmahjongplayers, organized for her," said Cousins, who new resident on the second by Jewish Pavilion program was gearing up to defend her and fourth Tuesday of the director Julie Levitt, who champion title at the annual month. Unfortunately, vision come to the nursing home JCCMajMadnesstournamentproblems have prevented the every other Thursday to play at the end of January. "I look woman from playing of late. with Elison. forward to it," responded But the game still continues Rotating with Pavilion Elison with a warm smile, like clockwork, because an- volunteer Meril Salzburg She gives the other players other resident, JoanDeCarlo, and a pool of subs, the group little presents at Chanukah joined in when she moved to has been playing together and other times to show her the facility about a year ago for about six years, follow- appreciation. "She has been and was excited to come upon ing Elison from the former very generous to us," said a game in progress. Horizon Bay, now Brookdale Perreault fondly On a recent Tuesday, De- Altamonte Springs, when she The game moved quickly Carlo sat at a table at Brook- moved to Tuskawilla Nursing for the four very experienced dale Altamonte and expertly following a hospitalization, players: the clack of tiles and rearranged the tiles in her They have a breezy and com- din of conversation were oc- hand to decide which to keep panionable chemistry that casionally punctuated with and which to pass along to comes from years of facing little gasps of frustration Pavilion volunteers Melissa eachotheraroundatablefora whensomeone'srevealedtiles Masin and Leslie Intro dur- 2-hour game. It's a friendship included one that another ing the preamble to the game thatbeganwhenthePavilion's player needed to make her known as "the Charleston" Levitt met Elison soon after hand work."Kvetchingispart for its ritualized sequence of she moved to Horizon Bay ofmahjong,"laughedCousins directional tile passes The and learned that she was an after severalsuchoutburstsin players use the passes to try inveterate player who loved quick succession, to improve their hands before the game. With its six suits, eight the game begins "She used toplay mahjong jokers, elaborate rules, and Asked how long she has fiveorsixdaysaweek, andshe multiple combinations for been playing mahjong, the got there, and she was lonely winning hands that change 85-year-oldDeCarlorespond- Shown here (l-r): Debbie Meitin, jong biweekly at Tuskawilla ed, "all my life," explaining that she had learned the game from kids in her neighborhood when she was in junior high school and had been playing ever since--even teaching the game at a community center in New Jersey years ago. Although the game is well known to be popular among Jewish women, DeCarlo is not Jewish. However, she very much appreciates the Jewish Pavilion volunteers who make it possible for her to continue playing a game that has been an important part of her life for so long. "I love it--we have so much fun," said Intro as she took her turn. "I've been playing mahjong about 20 years, and my room taught me how to Dale Perreault, Jill Cousins and Ruth Elison play mah- Nursing and Rehab Center. play." Intro says that it helped Said Intro, "This is my her tomake new friendswhen favorite volunteer work be- shemovedtotheOrlandoarea cause I get to play!" She has from Kansas City. grown attached to DeCarlo One of those friends was and the other resident with Masin, who has been volun- whom she was originally teeringfortheJewishPavilion recruited to play, and they since she moved to Orlando very much look forward to 14 years ago and, along with visits with her and the other Intro and Deanna Freedland volunteer players and a few alternates, has been In addition to enjoying the playing the twice-monthly game, playing at the facility gamesatBrookdaleAltamon- twice a month is a way for te for about two years. Masin Intro to stay in touch with learned the game while she her friends who live there. "I was pregnant more than 21 like keeping an eye on them," years ago, also at her mother's said Intro. suggestion. She moved to To volunteer for Mitzvah new towns several times MajoranyoftheJewishPavil- after that and, like Intro, has ion's other programs, contact found being a mahjongplayer the Pavilion at 407-678-9363 to be helpful in forging new or email NancyLudin@Jew- friendships, Cnaan Liphshiz Toni Pinya enters the synagogue of Palma de Mallorea, Spain, Feb. 11, 2019. By Cnaan Liphshiz ing the Spanish Inquisition, customs tobe practicedsafely. the forcibly converted Jews But Purim was obscure PALMA DE MALLORCA, of Mallorca had exploited enough to be observed unde- Spain (JTA)--On this island their persecutors' relative tected, accordingtoBen-Avra- south of Barcelona, Jews ignorance ofPurim to mourn ham, whohadserveduntiltwo celebrate Purim these days their situation and sustain years ago as the emissary to pretty much as they do most their faith and culture. Mallorca for Shavei Israel, a anywhere else in Europe. "Purim wasn't celebrated in group that helps those with There's the reading of the Mallorca, it was sorrowfully Jewish ancestry reconnect Book of Esther at the small observed in secret," said Rabbi to Judaism synagogue near the marina, Nissan Ben-Avraham, a Mal- In previous centuries, a followed by a costume party lorca native from a family of holiday that celebrates the bringing together the differ- chuetas--the local name for Jews'triumphoverpeoplewho ent contingents of Palma's anusim, or those who were conspired to annihilate them Jewish population of several forcibly converted to Christi- in fifth-century B.C. Persia hundred: unaffiliated Israeli anity during the Inquisition was far less joyous than its families, retired British sun Celebratinganyofthemajor carnival-like character today lovers, Sephardic locals and Jewish holidays--including Jews only began dressing up Frenchbusinessmen, to name Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot on Puriminthe 16th century. a few. - would have been too risky Before that, the holiday's es- But only 50 years ago, for chuetas, a minority that sence was primarily in the Purim was the holiest day for centuries had been treated daylong Fast of Esther, which of the year--comparable to with suspicion and occasion- comes immediately before the Yom Kippur--for this island's ally violence. Those holidays actual holidayandis meantas unique Jewish community, were too well-known andasign of gratitude to God for . Persecuted for centuries dur- featured too many distinctive the survival of Jews in Persia. The fast aligned comfort- "Of course we connect in a One of them, located on a ablywith Lent, a40-dayperiod very powerful way to her story quiet alleyso narrow that only in early spring during which and character," said Iska bat small cars can negotiate it, is Catholics abstain from certain Vails, a 60-year-old chueta now a leather shop. Another indulgences, including meat. whoconvertedtoJudaismsev- is a church Many Christians would fast eral years ago. She is now an But after the fall of the on Ash Wednesday, the first active member of Mallorca's pro-Catholic dictatorship of day of Lent, thereby provid- tiny Jewish congregation of Francisco Franco in 1975, ing a handy alibi for chuetas several dozen people, anti-chueta sentiment de- observing the Fast of Esther For generations, the near- clined and with it the need at around the same time, Ben- homophones EstelleandStela for secrecy around the Purim Avraham explained, were particularly popular first customs By then, thousands Some chuetas fasted on Pu- names for chueta girls as a of tourists to Mallorca had rimasrecentlyas30yearsago, tribute to the heroine,transformed the remote is- according to Dolores Forteza Both Toni Pinya, a chu-land into a European party Rei, amemberoftheMemoria eta who converted back to capital, Forteza Rei said. de la Carrer association that is Judaism and is now a board "Suddenly we were not the dedicated to the preservation member of the Jewish Com- foreigners anymore. Being of chueta heritage. Her late munityofMallorca, andRabbi chuetabecame irrelevant.An father, Jose, began fasting on Ben-Avraham recall getting anecdote," she said. Purim in the 1930s upon his beaten up and harassed at Pinya, achefwhoalsocooks return to the island from the school in Palma as late at for the synagogue, is one of Spanish Civil War. the 1960s by classmates who dozens of chuetas who con- "He kept fasting on Purim called them "Christ killers" verted to Judaism over the right until he died," Forteza and "dirty chuetas." past two decades. Rei said. Pinya's parents were mar- Nowadays, "Purim is just Chuetas today form a mi- ried in secret at dawn in the a great attraction for unaf- nority of about 15,000, very 1950s to avoid a riot because filiated Jews, especially the few of whom regard them- his father was a chueta, Pinya Israeli ones with children," selves as Jews. In the past, explainedduringaninterview said Dani Rotstein, a founder however, they had a deeper, at the local synagogue,oftheisland'sLimmudconfer- emotional connection to the Asmaltspace onthe ground ence of Jewish learning. story of Purim and particu- floor of a residential building A New Jersey native who larly to itsprotagonist Esther. next to aThai massage parlor, specializes in video produc- According to the story, the synagogue boasts a Star tions, Rotstein settled in Esther was called upon by of David on its gate and a Mallorca in 2014 and started her uncle to enter the harem mezuzah on its front door. the Limmud festival there of the Persian kingAhasuerus Such recognizable features last year. and foil his evil adviser's plan were unthinkable at the three Still, Purim resonates to annihilate the kingdom's secret synagogues wherewith Mallorca's Jews in much Jews. Hiding her Jewish chuetas had practiced their deeper ways than elsewhere, identity until the story's Judaism discreetly for many he said. climax, Esther was defined years after the Inquisition. "It's not surprising, when as an "anusa" already in the Located at the old center of you think about it," Rotstein 19th century by the Malbim, Palmade Mallorca, the capital said. "Many chuetas basically a rabbinic sage from what is oftheislandofMallorca, these feel that this story is about now Ukraine synagogues no longer exist, their own lives "