August 11, 2011; Source: | Anyone visiting San Francisco will notice its racial and ethnic diversity. But spend some time in the neighborhoods and you will discover that just like in most major American cities, people tend to stick to their own kind.

Nonprofits have long worked to bring communities together to foster understanding and cooperation and at times to rally for the common good. On a Wednesday evening this summer, the local office of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) joined the AsianWeek Foundation to invite members of the Asian American and Jewish communities to the War Veterans Memorial Building to play Mahjong, a game that originated in China and has been played by generations of Jewish Americans.

The night of Mahjong or Mah Jongg—which roughly translates as “sparrow clattering”—drew nearly 150 players, split evenly between Jewish and Asian enthusiasts. Participants played both Chinese and Jewish versions of the game and were treated to a Chinese buffet with Jewish desserts. They also viewed “The Tiles That Bind,” a documentary featuring Jewish and Chinese women reminiscing about their mothers playing Mahjong. “It’s definitely a social thing,” Fran Lehner, a practitioner of the Western style, told “We gossip, we eat, we have a good time.”

The gathering also bridged cultures. Lauren Bellings, a Chinese American woman married to a Jewish man, said, “Mah jongg is something I grew up with … and I wanted the chance to play it with my Chinese and Jewish family.”

During her thank-you speech to the attendees, AJC San Francisco board member Linda Frank summed up the motivation behind the event: “We’re delighted to have such wonderful partners in the Asian community. It really fulfills the AJC’s mission, because forming relationships with other communities is what we’re all about.”Erwin de Leon