MALDEN – It started nearly 50 years ago when a tight-knit, vibrant Jewish community lived in the Faulkner section of Malden. Bingo! It was a fun night out with sociability on tap and you, maybe, could rake in some real gelt.
Marilyn Masters, who is 83, has been part of the bingo scene at Congregation Agudas Achim-Ezrath Israel on Bryant Street for nearly half a century – as long as bingo’s uninterrupted run on Tuesday nights lasted. It was the go-to place after working at home or in offices all day, a way to kibbitz with your fellow players, have some excitement and see old friends.
The regular players and some 25 volunteers got the announcement recently: The long run would end this winter. There would be no more Tuesday night bingo in the Malden Conservative synagogue’s social hall.
“There were tears,” said Barbara Weiner, 83, a caller at the shul’s bingo tournament for a half century. “It was a sad evening. Unfortunately, in this day and age, it’s not the same.”
People would come at 5 p.m., sit and have a sandwich and play cards until the first game started at 6:45 p.m. These were the people who stayed at home or worked close by. The second shift began at 8 p.m. and lasted until 9:30 p.m. In its heyday, bingo brought in close to 200 players. Until recently, it drew about 80 regulars.
Winnings could be impressive. Depending upon the strips or cards a player would buy, he or she could go home with a bundle.
“Every game was worth either $50 or $75 or $100. Cover the whole card for $500. Someone could win $1,100,” said Weiner. “People have won $1,000 and up to $2,000. For many years it was a very profitable venture for the temple. That was our big moneymaker.”
The Faulkner section of Malden, an immigrant neighborhood bound by Ferry Street on the west and Everett on the south, was once filled with working-class Jews, Italians and Irish. But those days are long gone. The Jews have moved, several other synagogues are gone, and now there is just Agudas Achim-Ezrath Israel and the Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel.
The bingo volunteers were Jewish, said Weiner, but the players in recent years were not.
“We had all ethnic groups. Some couldn’t even speak English,” she said.
They’d come from East Boston, Lynn, Everett and Revere. Two sisters came every Tuesday in an Uber from Newton. The bingo evening was an important part of their lives, said Weiner.
As interest in bingo waned (200 to 300 bingo parlors have closed in the state in the last 10 years, said Weiner) the synagogue made less and less money, to the point where it was just breaking even. The opening of the Encore Boston Harbor casino “down the street” in Everett didn’t help, she said.
While synagogue membership at the temple stands at 80, members vow to find other sources of revenue to make up for bingo. They will explore renting out the hall on Tuesday or other nights, and they intend to continue with small fundraisers throughout the year.
Laraine Alpert of Saugus, a vice president, said a 50-year anniversary is planned for 2020. Like many other urban shuls, its membership is getting older. The event was delayed in 2019 because of the deaths of several key members. Past president Donald Weiner, Barbara’s husband, passed away in May and past president Paula Sack passed away in August. Both will be honored at the anniversary celebration.
Masters, a former bingo chair, said she will miss bingo nights. Asked if she worries about the shul closing, she said, “I don’t like to think of it. I’d like to see us go on forever. My grandmother, mother, me, my children and their children have gone here. And now I have a new great-granddaughter.”
There will be luncheons with speakers and fundraisers in the coming months. There are services every week, a minyan with 15 regulars, a Kiddush and large holiday services. There are Sunday get-togethers with speakers, programs, movies and breakfast.
The congregation does not have a rabbi, but congregants lead and “daven beautifully,” said Weiner. There is a cantorial singer, shofar blowers and upcoming will be b’nai mitzvoth in May and a baby naming.
Weiner and others will arrange a thank-you breakfast for all the bingo volunteers.
“We’ll have a few laughs and a few cries,” said Weiner.