January 27, 2020

What young Jews do on Christmas Eve

Sitting in front of the television eating Chinese food and watching reruns of “It’s A Wonderful Life” isn’t exactly what young Jews are doing this Christmas Eve.

A new trend that started years ago—big blowout parties with lots of time to mingle and network—has become tradition. Matzo Ball and Schmooz-a-Palooza are two of the biggest of these types of holiday events.

Matzo Ball is a project of the Society of Young Jewish Professionals (SYJP), the nation’s largest and most successful membership organization for Jewish Professionals.

Presented by SYJP, JDate and SLEEK Medspa, the 25th annual Matzo Ball promises a night of high-energy networking and matchmaking for singles ages 21-49.

According to Andy Rudnick, founder of Matzo Ball, the event offers men and women the opportunity to meet in an environment conducive to developing networking opportunities, long lasting friendships and romantic relationships. On Dec. 24, singles in New York, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Boston will take part in the nationwide event.

Founded in 1987 by Rudnick, SYJP is his brainchild, and the idea developed from one man’s desire to bring Jewish people together and find a nice Jewish girl along the way. “I met the woman who became my wife at a Matzo Ball,” he said. To date, Rudnick said SYJP has “sparked more than 1,000 marriages and thousands of friendships.” 

With a background in marketing and communications, Rudnick runs a chain of plastic surgery centers called SLEEK MedSpa, one of Matzo Ball’s sponsors.

“When I was in college in 1986 I bartended in a hot night club that was closed on Christmas Eve, so I went to this singles party at a hotel,” Rudnick recalled. “Many young Jewish kids thought it was great but they did not like the environment. People had to wait in line to buy drink tickets and wait again to get drinks. The lights were high. The environment was not conducive to lowering your inhibitions and having a good time and meeting people. It felt like the prom.”

The following year Rudnick worked in a Boston real estate company and noticed that a nearby nightclub closed. He convinced the nightclub to do the event. His mother, who thought it cute and conceptual, inspired the name “Matzo Ball.”

Launched with limited marketing, Matzo Ball picked up steam.

“Boston radio stations got a kick out of it and put me on the radio and promoted it,” Rudnick said. “The first night we had over 2,000 people show up in Boston. They were not prepared for it. We knew from that one event that Christmas Eve was the night where we could bring all these Jewish kids together and turn over to them the number one nightclub in town. The event was born. As we grew and developed it from city to city we kept the same theme.”

Although JDate (the leading Jewish online singles community) helps sponsor Matzo Ball, the online dating service has its own event on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles. JDate is the presenting sponsor of Stu & Lew’s Schmooz-a-Palooza.

Held for the Jewish community for the past 18 years, Schmooz-a-Palooza attracts more than 1,000 attendees. According to JDate’s director of public relations, Arielle Schechtman, the event is known as one of the hippest parties in Los Angeles for those looking to make new friends, meet someone special and spend time with fellow Jews on a night not typically associated with the Jewish community.

“Schmooz-a-Palooza started 18 years ago, so it’s not so much a trend as it is a tradition,” Schechtman explained. “One of the terrific things about Schmooz-a-Palooza is that it is not just for singles. Whether you are single or in a relationship, Schmooz-a-Palooza is the place to be on a night where there are not a lot of other options for Jews. JDate is involved in Schmooz-a-Palooza because it is one of the biggest Jewish events of the year and a fun way to build and connect with the Jewish community. This is your chance to party like a celebrity, indulge in VIP-style revelry and toast ‘l’chaim’ with your friends inside one of the hottest venues on the West Coast.”

Schechtman said Schmooz-a-Palooza’s venue, The Roosevelt Hotel, has onsite restaurants for attendees, and since the event starts at 8 p.m., they have the opportunity to have an early dinner with friends and family before the party begins.

“In 2009, we partnered with the 92nd Street Y on a Chinese food and movie event on Christmas Day,” she said. “We also feature Brandon Walker’s Chinese Food and a music video on Jdate TV.”

This year’s Schmooz-a-Palooza features a “lucky” theme as the number 18 represents “Chai” (life) and is significant in Judaism. Attendees will be able to participate in casino games (with fake money), dance the night away to tunes by DJ Ian Gotler, and live the “chai” life, hanging out in the exclusive Teddy’s Nightclub.

However, Jdate is not only about fun and games. Building the community, Schechtman added, is critical to JDate’s mission. This year, the company is proud to be partnering with The Concern Foundation (www.concernfoundation.org), an independent, volunteer driven non-profit organization dedicated to raising and granting funds to support cancer research for all types of cancer worldwide.

“In the past, we’ve also donated a portion of Schmooz-a-Palooza’s proceeds to Bet Tzedek, the premier public-interest law firm which provides free legal services to low-income, disabled and elderly people of all racial and religious backgrounds,” she said.

So how did Chinese food get mixed up in Jewish tradition? According to Marc Tracy of Tablet, The Hebrew year is 5771 and the Chinese year is 4707.

“That must mean, the joke goes, that against all odds, the Jews went without Chinese food for 1,064 years,” Tracy wrote. “In fact, Jewish love for Chinese food is neither hallucinated nor arbitrary. It is very real and very determined, and it originates roughly a century ago in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.”

The predominant groups in the Lower East Side were Eastern European Jews, Italians, and Chinese. 

According to Matthew Goodman, author of Jewish Food: The World at Table, Italian cuisine and especially Italian restaurants, with their Christian iconography, held little appeal for Jews. “The Chinese restaurants had no Virgin Marys. In addition, they prepared their food in the Cantonese culinary style, which utilized a sweet-and-sour flavor profile, overcooked vegetables, and heaps of garlic and onions. Sound familiar?” Goodman wrote. 

Chinese restaurants also offered poor Eastern European Jewish immigrants the opportunity to feel cosmopolitan and sophisticated.

Part of the appeal of Matzo Ball and Schmooz-a-Palooza is feeling sophisticated, but also catching up with old friends.

“People do their own thing,” Rudnick said. “It has become a mainstay for summer camp reunions. They always meet at the Matzo Ball.”