NellysList Social Club: Hosting Sold Out Jewish Professionals Events for Over 20 Years

Event planner and matchmaker Nelly J. Fronen loves helping fellow Jews make new friends, form new business relationships, and find their Bashert.
September 28, 2023
Nelly J. Rosenking and husband Jonathan Fronen at Art Basel Miami with Gad Elbaz event in 2022 (Photo credit: World Red Eye)

On a Thursday evening at the Melrose Place LA Restaurant, the rooftop bar is filled with Jewish professionals in their 20s, 30s and 40s who paid a premium to attend. The events have a reputation for being a genuinely good time with people who are intent on making new friends. At the door, you get a name tag, and the person at the door will ask you “what’s something you enjoy doing?” Your answer gets written on your name tag too.  It’s a harmless little ice breaker. Another is “say what you do for a living without saying the job title.”  Sometimes they have you write your Hebrew name on your nametag, just to add some fun.

The mixer is hosted by the NellysList Social Club, named after the host, Nelly J. Fronen.

No, it’s not just a party with silly name tags. It’s a growing Jewish social community from Los Angeles to New York to Miami of mostly singles gathering to make new friends. NellysList events are not just another Jewish singles event. Attendees often pay between $50-$75 for admission—an expensive ticket if you’re one of those people who too frequently complain that “there’s nobody interesting to talk to.” Attendees are invested and the admission fee will make them reconsider leaving early. It’s not packed to the gills, but the event is sold out. There’s a waitlist too.

The X factor here is Fronen herself. Even after two decades in the business, she still is right there at the bar in the middle of the action, making sure she meets every one of the guests. It’s clear that Fronen wants people to feel welcome and make new friends. Even with a thick New York accent, she sounds kind and approachable. She estimates that 99% of the attendees are single, but still encourages couples to attend.

“I want it to be a community, I also want singles to see good examples of married couples,” Fronen told the Journal. “I’m a couple, my friends are couples and I want to see that. I want singles to see couples can hang, couples can socialize. Couples like being involved in nightlife.”

In attendance at this particular NellysList event was Sophia Alcalay who was visiting Los Angeles from Miami where she works in real estate. Prior to this night, she has been to NellysList events in both Miami and New York. The Journal asked Alcalay what keeps her coming back to NellysList events.

“It’s a really relaxed environment, you find all different types of Jewish people,” Alcalay said. “It’s not affiliated with a synagogue. It’s just Nelly being real and just nice Jewish people. And I think Nelly makes the best choices for her venues because they’re always fun and exciting. And right now I’m standing in a very beautiful space and she always picks a great ambiance. Whether it’s LA, New York or Miami.”

Also in attendance is Azin David, a pharmacist from Los Angeles who attended multiple NellysList events and plans to continue doing so.

“Nelly attracts a lot of professionals, high-caliber professionals,” David said.

Fronen lives in Los Angeles, yet her social empire dates back to 2000 while living in her native Brooklyn.

Then, she was working as a professional corporate event planner in Manhattan. Outside of work, she hosted her own events. As a turn of the 21st century party planner, she did not have social media notifications or group text messaging to spread the word. There were some emails, but mostly phone calls, word of mouth, physical fliers and faxing—whatever that is.

After the events of September 11, 2001, the social scene in New York changed.

“It was super taboo to do big events or spend money on events when 3,000 people just died and there were no budgets really being allocated anymore or for a long time thereafter,” Fronen said. “I had groups of friends from high school, groups of friends from college, groups of friends from traveling. I would go to the venues that I’d established relationships with and I would produce my own events. There was a list at the door called NellysList, which was my guest list. If you said my name at the door, then there was some special amenity, like you got in for free or you were VIP.”

Between 2003 and 2004, as cellular service providers stopped charging customers per text message, NellysList events became even bigger. There were email invitations and Evites. Facebook came around in 2004, and in 2005, Gchat and BlackBerry Messenger changed how people communicated during the workday. Fronen kept growing the contact list and throwing more events. The biggest events, Fronen said, would get upwards of 2,000-3,000 people to attend. There were events for Purim, Hanukkah and Christmas Eve and many more intimate events in between. Fronen developed a reputation for hosting the must-attend social event for young Jewish professionals in New York.

“[The attendees] are really looking to meet other Jewish people and to get hooked up, but people were trying to befriend one another, make new friends post-high school, post-college,” Fronen said. “They didn’t have an outlet for it online yet. There was no such thing. So that was the beauty of NellysList—it was a physical platform. It wasn’t virtual, it wasn’t in the air, it wasn’t intangible. It was like you could come to an actual place and actually meet people. And it worked for a really, really long time.”

It’s not just the rooftop parties in America’s three most Jewish cities. Fronen has hosted many different types of events, including trips to Marvão, Amsterdam and Israel. She has led multiple Birthright trips. She was even a founding member of the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces’ (FIDF) Young Leadership Board.

In 2013, Fronen relocated to Miami where she hosts one of the largest annual Passover parties in the United States at the nightclub Liv at the Fontainebleau Hotel. Though she currently resides in Los Angeles, she still hosts the annual Passover party in Miami.

“We kosher it for Passover, and 2,000 people from around the world will come, and we’ll fly and DJs from Israel, and we’ll make it one big balagan and have fun with it,” Fronen said. But granted, people are meeting, so many people have met their spouses at my events.”

After years of facilitating so many new friends and families, Fronen started her own. On a seemingly uneventful night in Miami, Fronen was curiously scrolling the Instagram hashtag #Sunsets. Even though Instagram had only existed for four years at the time, there must have been hundreds of millions of photos with that hashtag. But one of the photos she double tapped happened to be posted by a Jewish man in Los Angeles named Jonathan Fronen. The two DM’d each other hit it off remotely for three months. They finally met in person for the first time at the baggage claim at LAX. Fronen relocated to Los Angeles and they were married in 2015. Today, they have three children. Jonathan is a general contractor and attends NellysList events whenever possible. Among the many things they bonded over, they both love introducing people to each other at parties.

“We’ll talk to everybody. We’ll encourage people. We’ll give them advice. We’ll befriend them, we’ll bring them to Shul, whatever [Jonathan] needs to do to encourage people to feel happy. It’s built into our nature. We love hosting. We love people. We love good people, good company. So we’re always brewing. You can’t shut it off. I’m always brewing. He’s always brewing….When it comes to my events, he’s my sidekick. And he also loves it. He loves the social energy that comes with it, or the quality of actually meeting other Jews in this environment, having fun and being happy with them.”

NellysList was unsurprisingly stifled by the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020. But in 2021, Fronen made a pivot.

“Everything shuts down. All major venues shut down. I had planned one of my biggest events at Liv’s in Miami and I couldn’t bring people together at a physical place,” Fronen said. “But I felt like Hashem didn’t want me to pull the plug out just because the physical place shut down. So I took it upon myself to do person-to-person matchmaking.”

Fronen created NellysList Match where she took on personal clients and created a program to help people get coached into being marriage-ready or marriage-minded ready. Air travel was still not popular and the would-be NellysList event attendees, like the rest of society, were drawing lines in the sand between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

“I was really heavy in the game of getting people to change their mindset and would say, don’t let this stop you. Pursue finding your Bashert,” Rosaenking said to her matchmaking clients. “I did that for six months straight, nonstop. I had a hundred different people on my clientele list at the time. I was also pregnant and gave birth to my third kid.”

Business in Miami never fully shut down, but Fronen found that Los Angeles seemed exceptionally isolated during the first 18 months of the Pandemic, and is still in many ways recovering.

“I didn’t feel the energy [in Los Angeles] that I felt in New York or Miami’s people wanting to go out in the single young professional realm,” Fronen said. “I just didn’t feel it. I didn’t see it. I didn’t see events that popped up and showcased it, and I didn’t feel it amongst my peers. I felt like, not that I needed to change it, I just felt like I needed to amp up my mojo and get my energy out there to start gravitating to people. A lot of the people that I was matching during the time of Corona were LA- based people. I think LA based singles don’t know where their outlet is here and how to meet singles or where to go to socialize.”

NellysList events continue to be a hot ticket for both regular attendees and first-timers. Fronen relishes in knowing each event she hosts helps enhance the attendees connections with their Judaism.

“So people are engaged in something Jewish, but it’s not in Shul,” Fronen said. “It’s not something that’s being pushed on you religiously. It’s something that you are part of— fun atmosphere, but you’re getting a dose of your Jewish heritage while you’re there. So it encompasses so much.”

The Journal asked Fronen about the variety of events she hosts and for advice for people planning to attend their first NellysList event.

JEWISH JOURNAL: Tell us about the variety of events you host, beyond just the rooftop mixers.

NELLY J. FRONEN: I did a cooking event [in 2022 for] Tisha B’av at Our Big Kitchen Los Angeles, where I got a hundred people to come cook 500 meals for the homeless. I thought that would be interesting and fun and different than just bringing them to a lounge or a club to have people interact with each other.  But of course, I had a DJ and an open bar, so I have to NellysList-it up. I can’t just make it boring. I then did a hundred person dinner party with KosherGuru. We had a tasting for a hundred singles and it was a lot of fun. So that was one of the events I did in May.  And then I did two art events. Miami holds a humongous Art Basel convention every December. People from all around the world come to celebrate amazing art. So I’m hired every year to do the Art Basel event. For part of my Art Basel event, I reserve one room just for Judaica. I really want to bring Jewish artists and Jewish work to light. And I said, “how come we don’t have this in LA?”I partnered with the Chabad West Hollywood’s Rabbi [Yossi] Dalfin, and I told him, I have a vision. I saw this date on my calendar, 6/13, and I really want to bring good energy back into the world and I want to produce a Judaic pop art show. In less than 14 days, I had six artists, we produced a show and we had about 150 people come. It was a lot of hard work, don’t get me wrong. But it happened. And the artists were very phenomenal.

JJ: When it comes to dating and matchmaking, what dealbreakers do you encourage people to drop?

NJR:  “Oh, she’s too old for me.” When guys used to tell me that I used to kill them, I’m like, don’t say that. Don’t. She’s too old for you? I got married when I was 35. I had my first kid at 36, second kid at 38, third kid at 42. Don’t stop yourself because in your head you think she’s too old for you.. Don’t do that. Don’t count your children. Right. Find that one girl that’s going to work for you. And a lot of guys have that mentality and it stops them pushing forward.

JJ: List a few pieces of advice to people who are nervous/shy before they go to a NellysList event.

NJR: 1— You got a ticket, you got up, you got dressed, you got in your car and you made it here. So that was step one. So bravo. Really, pat on the back.

2—Recognize that everyone at the event is in the same boat and is here to meet people and have a good time. They’re here to have a laugh. They’re here to mix and mingle. So there’s nobody that should feel outcasted.

3—Be your authentic self and have emunah that Hashem’s got your back. In the right time, the right things will happen for you. You’re supposed to meet the people that you meet. You’re supposed to go on the good dates and the bad dates. These people are put in your pathway for a reason.

4—Put aside judgments and focus on finding genuine chemistry and connection and conversation with someone that can be carried in a nice way that you feel good about it

5—Follow through! Listen, you clicked with somebody, get their phone number. Go out. It doesn’t need to be a fancy date where you take them for dinner and it’s expensive and all those things. Get those ideologies out of your head. No, go for a coffee. It’s totally cool. Go for a hike.

6—You have to have a different mentality about dating these days because you can’t stick to the old fashioned rules and ways of things.

To get tickets to the next NellysList Social Club event, go to https://nellyslist.com/ and follow it on Instagram.

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