When your children play Halma or Checkers or any other of the many board games in which variously shaped pieces are moved after certain rules over a number of squares, or when they throw dice in a cup in order to determine how many moves they are permitted to make with their playing pieces, neither they nor perhaps ever you realize that they indulge in a game that amused Egyptian as well as Hebrew children thousands of years ago in Mizraim and in Palestine.
Mizraim, Egypt, was for the Jew always fraught with bitter memories; it was the land of slavery and oppression, and the slavery and oppression were doubly galling because they came suddenly and undeservedly after members of the Jewish race had risen to high honors and had done signal service to the country. Perhaps we, witnessing similar occurrences in our own day and time under the reign of Hitler, can understand more fully than another generation how the ancient Jews must have felt toward Egypt. Yet despite all the bitter memories, despite all the oppression, the Jew was yet deeply influenced by Egyptian culture, and in Palestine, in the second millenium B.C., almost all manufactured goods which were imported from outside came from Egypt. Children’s toys were among those goods, and a few years ago Professor Allbright found in Southern Palestine during his third campaign of excavation a set of Egyptian playing pieces and dice and some game boards which clearly showed how the Palestinian youngsters of those times amused themselves.
The game those children played was twofold. On a board of twenty squares they played with one piece, the teetotum, and determined its movements through the dice that came with the game, while on another board of thirty squares twelve pieces were used. The first game resembles the modern Parcheesi, the second our Halma and Checkers. No tome of historic facts can make the past to us so vivid and so alive as those ancient objects of everyday use, and when next time your children engage in a board game tell them that many thousands of years ago little boys and girls in Palestine played similar games. In making them thus aware of the continuity of life, in giving their transitory play the richness of historic associations, you will have added to their cultural possessions and will have deepened the pleasure they derive from their toys.
Selina Dolaro, Anglo-Jewish actress, produced Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial by Jury” in the 1870’s in the London Haymarket Theatre.