Meet the Real Mah Jongg Mavens

Meet the Real Mah Jongg Mavens

With over 500,000 players, Mah Jongg means business.

After 37 years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and now with the AJT, , Jaffe’s focus is lifestyle, art, dining, fashion, and community events with emphasis on Jewish movers and shakers.

This black set features an unusual and exotic look.
This black set features an unusual and exotic look.

Debbie Levin Katz and Leslie Fox claim their business union was bashert as the new owners of popular website and eCommerce destination Mah Jongg Maven.

As experienced players for over 30 years, they both grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, went to the same high school, and did not know each other. They both moved from Chicago to Florida, and then came to Atlanta for work. And that’s when the hot tiles started clacking. They discovered through friends that Stacey Frankel was selling this business.

Debbie Levin Katz and Leslie Fox claim their business union was bashert, as the new owners of popular website and eCommerce destination Mah Jongg Maven.

In describing Mah Jongg Maven, Katz said, “Our eCommerce retail store sells everything you need to play Mah Jongg. We are known for the quality and uniqueness of our hand-painted engraved sets. We take the classic suits of Mah Jongg and add color and artistic flair to all the tile faces. We sell racks in various colors and different types of cases. We like to think of ourselves as All Things Mah Jongg.”

They sell learning tools and official National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) official cards as well and carry all the fun tchotchkes — great for entertaining and hosting games like serving dishes, napkins, mugs, spreaders, tumblers, gifts, jewelry, and apparel. They also sell canasta, backgammon, and dominoes. Everything is eCommerce and shipped out of their homes separate from where products are stored in a warehouse. Sets start as low as $85 up to $285 for the well-known Mah Jongg Maven Chicklet set.

The Rainbow Chicklett set is among the most popular.

Chicklett/Rainbows are the most popular Mah Jongg sets as are customized jokers with fun sayings, images or names. Quantifying the Mah Jongg craze, Katz stated, “We know there are about half a million cards sold a year through the NMJL — although, there are now lots and lots of new players; so, I wouldn’t be surprised if that number is closer to 750,000. The Facebook group, Mah Jongg That’s It, has over 67,000 members, one of the largest groups on Facebook. More and more men are learning how to play. Both of our husbands play.”

We have seen old movies of Jewish women playing Mah Jongg in the Catskills and assume it’s a Jewish game. “Not exactly so,” says Katz, “Mah Jongg started in the Jewish community in the U.S., however, more and more people are playing in their communities, so, it is not as primarily Jewish as it used to be. “

Some get cultish about the game taking Mah Jongg cruises or at least meet up with others at the designated Mah Jongg game on generic cruises. Katz and Fox encourage players to add their own tournaments to the Facebook group: Mah Jongg Maven- All Things Mah Jongg, and their Instagram account: Mahjonggmaven. They also go to tournaments to meet players and hosted their first Mah Jongg social play weekend retreat on Feb. 16 at Stone Mountain with much success.

Even though the duo has been playing since they were 20 years old, they feel that there is always room to learn and grow strategically. Here is Katz’s advice for great playing: “Have fun, don’t play hands with pairs if you do not have the pairs to start, and be open to pivoting based on the Charleston (passing) and what you pick.”

Fox concluded, “We want to focus on having the highest quality and best selection of Mah Jongg tiles available.”

Outside of Mah Jongg, Fox plays canasta and works crossword puzzles. Katz plays pickleball, reads, walks, and attends art festivals. They both are both members of Congregation Dor Tamid where Fox was past president.

On Oct. 27, the group will host a fundraiser for Sharsheret Rack’em Up. For more information, please visit

Gabby Spatt is raising money with Jewish-themed items on her site, Mah Jongg for Israel.

As a side bar for a real Jewish connection, local community activist/volunteer Gabrielle Spatt started Mah Jongg for Israel where she is raising funds for charitable causes.

Spatt said, “I have created several Jewish/Israel-themed Mah Jongg items to help keep the connection with Mah Jongg and the Jewish community and raise funds for Israel. It’s been really nice to see all these new Mah Jongg businesses run by non-Jewish women wanting to support the history of the game and connection to the Jewish community.”

An example would be napkins that say, “Pass-over the Tiles” and a lively Mah Jongg card with all Jewish-themed categories.

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