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Robin Raphael: Sharing life stories makes bingo special

I’ve been volunteering at bingo for the past few years. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d enjoy it so much. It certainly isn’t based on my love of the game, since I hadn’t played bingo in a bingo hall ever.

When I started volunteering, I didn’t know the names of the games, how they worked, how much they cost or even how to win a game. Now I know most of the names, although I do prefer to sell the special boards as “big” and “little” instead of the technical “nine face” or “three face.” I’m getting the hang of the rules and I’ve even played once or twice.

I’ve done most of the jobs associated with bingo: making change, hawking special boards “on the floor” or sitting and selling boards at the admission table.

I’ve even had the opportunity to be the caller, with a coach sitting next to me and talking me through the procedures for selecting the next ball, positioning it so the number shows on a camera, placing it in its pressure-sensitive spot so the number lights up on the main board and pressing the proper combination of buttons to indicate the precise winnings when there are multiple winners.

It feels good to learn new things, so that is an enjoyable part of the experience.

But what makes it really special are the people I’ve met. At first I worried about the amount of money people were spending at bingo. After all, our synagogue sponsors bingo once per week and bingo costs money: admission, special games, raffles and the tasty treats that are available at the concession stand.

It sure seems like a lot of money to me. But maybe it’s no more (or even less) than going to dinner and the movies or bowling or a baseball game. I’m certain it’s cheaper than going to a Bills game.

People come to bingo for the entertainment value even though they really want to win. Many people even tell me they realize they’re making a donation to the synagogue by playing.

There are approximately 30 winners per night, which means most people won’t win. But they still come.

As I’ve become more familiar with the regulars, I’ve learned names, celebrated birthdays, congratulated people on engagements and weddings, seen baby pictures and grandbaby pictures, tasted cupcakes, shared candy and heard about illnesses and, on a few occasions, even heard about deaths. This is why I love it.

These are people who live in different communities, have different religious and ethnic backgrounds than I have, but share the common need for community and friendship.

Just the other night, I greeted back a regular player who had been absent for months. I was happy to see him, but sad to hear he had been sick.

The story I heard recently about young love lost and found again was so touching that I think this couple merits their own column to share their lives.

My husband and I frequently say: “Everybody’s got a story.” Through bingo, I’ve begun to hear quite a few and I hope to hear many more. These stories are the greatest way to experience that we are all more alike than different.