The Matzo Ball is an annual Christmas Eve nightlife event and party held in a number of major cities in the United States and Canada targeted primarily at young Jewish singles and organized by the Society of Young Jewish Professionals.
There are a number of competing social events in Jewish communities throughout the U.S. and Canada held that same night. In addition, Matzo Ball and similar spellings are also used as the names for a variety of other, unrelated Jewish community events in particular regions.
Historically, Jews in Europe would hide in their homes and villages during the Christmas holiday, for fear of violence from locals. In the United States, Christmas and Christmas Eve typically serve as times of family gathering and prayer for Christians and many others.
At the same time, many American Jews do not engage in the same family-gathering activities on the Christmas holiday that Christians in the United States do.
With Christmas Day a work holiday throughout the United States, there is a space of unfilled free time during which much of American commerce and society is not functioning, and which could lead to a sense of alienation or loneliness for American Jews.
Typical contemporary activities were usually limited to "Chinese and a movie"—consuming a meal at a Chinese restaurant, which tend to be open for business on the Christmas holiday, and watching a movie at the theater or at home, stereotypically a rerun of It's a Wonderful Life.
With the rise of the Matzo Ball and similar local events, the night of December 24 has become an opportunity to transform this otherwise brief period into one made to gather, socialize, catch up with old friends, network, drink, flirt, and romance. The event has turned Christmas Eve into a matchmaking or dating event for young Jews and "the biggest singles night of the year." The event is an opportunity to meet "'a lot of like-minded people dressed up to have a good time, network, find their mate'."
Whether "by their own volition or by the insistent nudging of their parents and grandparents," many young American Jews now attend these Christmas Eve singles events. While some party-goers admit that they attend with an eye toward flirting and romance, others maintain that they go only to spend time with friends, dance, and drink cocktails.
Events such as the Matzo Ball are also seen by some leaders in the Jewish community as a last chance to engage some young American Jews who come "out of the woodwork" for drinking and socializing but are otherwise difficult to reach and uninvolved with Jewish organizations.
The first Matzo Ball event was held in Boston in 1987 and organized by local social figure Andy Rudnick.
As a Boston University senior in political science and part-time bartender in 1986, Rudnick attended a Jewish young professionals Christmas Eve gathering at a local hotel, where he found a staid atmosphere similar to a high school prom, with women on one side of the room, and men on the other. The environment, including the strong lighting, waits to purchase drink tickets and to receive a drink, bad music, and stale latkes were not conductive to meeting people and having fun.
Following that incident, Rudnick began developing the idea for hosting an event the next December 24 at the nightclub he then bartended part-time at, Metro. He and his friends built up awareness of the upcoming event through word of mouth, posters, and flyers hand-distributed, including at malls. Some coverage of the event by local radio DJs, who invited Rudnick on-air to promote it, and Rudnick's on-air exaggerations about expected ticket sales, helped spread the word and 2,000 people attended the first Matzo Ball. Rudnick soon quit his job in commercial real estate to focus on the organization and event, and expanding to other cities.
The name of the event and the name of the organization were created on-the-spot in 1987. The event name was inspired by Rudnick's Irish-American coworker's question about Jewish cuisine, and the organization's name was thought up by Rudnick and his Italian-American nightclub bosses, Boston enterainment mogul brothers John and Patrick Lyons, who were concerned about offending both Jews and Christians with the stereotypical name Matzo Ball for an event being held on Christmas Eve, and harming the club's reputation. Other names for the event considered by Rudnick were 'Tribe Trot' and 'Heeb Hop', both of which were rejected upon the recommendation of Rudnick's mother, who also found the name Matzo Ball to be cute.
Tickets and crowd
Matzo Ball events are generally held at popular nightclubs in the cities in which the event is located. The average age range of the crowd spans from the 20s through 40s, unless otherwise specified. A ticket purchased at the door can cost $30–40.
Attendance at the New York event can average from 1,100 to 1,700 people, with an entry line forming outside the venue 30 minutes before the scheduled start time. Crowd sizes at smaller venues, like in Boca Raton, can be 800 to 1,000 people., but with a crowd that arrives later, leading to a long line for entry at midnight.
The event is typically scheduled to begin at 8 or 9 p.m. and run through the last call time for the state/locality, with peak attendance and flirting at approximately midnight.
Some party-goers to Christmas Eve singles events "pregame" with friends at home before arriving at the event.
The official organizer for the Matzo Ball events is Rudnick's Society of Young Jewish Professionals. An occasional sponsor of the Matzo Ball is JDate, even during those periods when JDate organized its own Christmas Eve event in Los Angeles under the name 'Schmooz-a-Palooza'.
At various times, the Matzo Ball has experimented with dividing some of its venues by age into different rooms or even separate adjacent venues, even giving a separate event name, "The Big Chill", to the party catering to 30-somethings seeking a less-noisy environment. The events are open to the public, and couples and non-Jews looking for a Christmas Eve activity are welcome to come, "though, obviously, it caters largely to young people who aren't spending Christmas Eve with their families or at church."
In some Matzo Ball cities, a number of attendees are from out-of-town, particularly in cities that have large numbers of visitors or where families tend to gather for the winter holidays, such as Boca Raton, which has a large number of New Yorkers during the holiday period.
Rudnick's formula for the Matzo Ball atmosphere is to find a large venue that can handle the large crowds, and for the lights to get dimmer and the music to get louder gradually over the course of the night. This allows for easier mingling and conversation earlier in the night before the hip-hop and dance/house music becomes loud enough to encourage dancing.
Rudnick and SYJP expand the Matzo Ball to new cities when they believe that have found the infrastructure and potential clientele of young, upscale Jewish people necessary to make the event successful.
- New York
- Washington, DC
- Miami Beach (with suggested age-separated rooms for the 21-35 and 25-55 crowd), Fort Lauderdale, and Delray Beach (a change from the pre-2009 Palm Beach County locations, which had been either Boca Raton or West Palm Beach)
- Philadelphia (with suggested age-separated adjacent venues for the 21-35 and 25-55 crowd), a previous location for the Matzo Ball before its absence in the late 2000s and early 2010s
- Atlanta, which had been a MatzoBall site in the past, for example in 2009, but had been omitted for several years leading up to 2014
- Los Angeles (with suggested age-separated rooms for the 21-35 and 25-55 crowd)
- San Francisco, a previous location for the Matzo Ball in the mid-2000s, which generated friction with the local Jewish Federation organized event
- Scottsdale, which was last a Matzo Ball site in 1993, when it was co-hosted with video dating service Great Expectations, and was at least an announced site in 2008
- Detroit, a new site for 2014 after Michigan eliminated decades-old "blue laws" in 2010 that had prohibited alcohol sales at bars after 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve
- Charlotte, a new site for 2014
- Austin, which was an announced site in 2008
- Boston, the original site of the event
In past years, the Matzo Ball also held events in the following cities where it no longer does:
- Las Vegas
- Charleston, in 2012
- Denver, which was a Matzo Ball site in 2013, and had been a previous location for the Matzo Ball through the mid-2000s, before its absence in the late 2000s and early 2010s
- northern New Jersey - Roselle, a 2013 venue
- Providence, Rhode Island in 2008
- Seattle, beginning in 1994, which led to conflict with the local Jewish Federation, which already had an event named Matzah Ball on Christmas Eve
- Toronto (planned for 2009, but apparently withdrawn; not to be confused with the independent Toronto Matzoball event functioning since 1988)
Prior to the mid-2000s, in Los Angeles, the Matzo Ball had ceded the region to the much more locally long-standing Schmooz-a-Palooza hosted by Stu & Lew Productions (which was acquired by JDate in 2006), before becoming a co-promoter for the event with JDate. Starting at least as early as 2009, the Matzo Ball partnered with JDate and promoted as a Matzo Ball the JDate/Stu & Lew Productions Schmooz-a-Palooza. By 2014, the Schmooz-a-Palooza brand appeared to have been retired from use.
The socializing and flirting that takes place at the Matzo Ball gives rise to many romantic relationships. The organizers believe that more than 1,000 marriages have resulted from meetings at various Matzo Balls (and stopped counting after reaching the 1,000 mark), and Rudnick himself met his wife at a Matzo Ball in 1997, where she tended bar.
The competition among the Christmas Eve parties has occasionally been stiff, especially during the "Matzo Ball wars of the early 90s", with use of similar-sounding event names, the use of touts and bouncers to chase away those touts outside events, and ticket dumping to "crush" the competition.
A major competitor to the Matzo Ball in New York is known simply as "The Ball", which began operations in 1994. In New York City, The Ball focuses on having separate venues, five as of the early 2010, targeted by age demographic, and with attendees receiving limousine service between venues, although party-goers must purchase an all-access pass to attend all five events.
In 2008, the organizer of The Ball, LetMyPeopleGo, attempted to expand the event into 24 other cities with significant Jewish populations. In almost all of those cities, with local marketing and co-hosting of the event performed by JDate, it was cancelled near the event date.
However, the Los Angeles version of The Ball, which was instead co-sponsored and co-marketed by the young adults divisions of the LA Guardians, the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging foundation, was successful and held again in 2009. The co-sponsorship continued, raising money for the LA Jewish Home, through 2012. In 2013, the Guardians and The Ball broke off their association, as the Guardians began organizing their own Christmas Eve event. The Ball, in turn, partnered nationally with online dating sites Match.com and OKCupid, both of which advertised The Ball events across the country to their members.
Niche and local events
New York City
Likewise, by the late 2000s, Chicago Jewish Christmas Eve events ran the gamut of tastes and preferred crowd. These included gatherings named 'Rockmitzvah', 'Hubukkah', the 'Heebonism' bash (sponsored by Heeb Magazine), and the more mainstream 'The Juju Ball' and 'Retro Eve', a long running but now defunct event.
In Washington, DC, a longtime competitor and alternative to the Matzo Ball has been the Gefilte Fish Gala, an event with no admission charge but only a requested donation, which is usually also held on Christmas Eve unless the night of the 24th coincides with Friday night, the Jewish sabbath.
Beginning in 2010, an informal group of Washington, DC, Jewish young professionals decided to organize another competitor to the Matzo Ball, the Falafel Frenzy, with all proceeds going to charity. The event has been successful in collecting money for local charities and continues to be held.
Atlanta, which had previously hosted an annual "Matzah Ball" unrelated to the SYJP event, has been the home of competing events for both mainstream audiences, such as the 'Bagel Bash', and niche groups, such as the local NCJW section's 'Santa Klutz Ball' for older singles.
Heeb Magazine 'Heebonism' events
Heeb Magazine sponsored and organized its 'Heebonism' events in various U.S. cities on Christmas Eve, targeted toward a "hip" audience seeking an alternative to events like the Matzo Ball, beginning in the late 2000s. By 2009, Heebonism had expanded to five cities nationally. Nationally, Heebonism organizers sought to offer a more "culturally substantive" and non-conformist event, with activities including "strip dreidel", video games, and light food. At the Los Angeles/Palm Springs Heebonism in 2009, strip dreidel was led by porn stars James Deen and Joanna Angel. In Denver, the local Heebonism event had its origin as a private pre-party for those seeking alternative entertainment before heading to the Matzo Ball. By 2013, Heebonism had retrenched and Heebonism events outside of Denver apparently had been eliminated.
Jewish community organized events
Other major cities have homegrown and well-attended Christmas Eve events that were established long before the Matzo Ball or The Ball entered the local scene.
These include Seattle's Latkepalooza, Cincinnati's Latkapalooza San Francisco's The Latke Ball, Tampa's Vodka Latke, Phoenix's Mazelpalooza, and Dallas's Matzah Ball, all of which are sponsored by their respective Jewish Federation's young professionals division.
Jewish Community Centers/Hillels/FIDF
Christmas Eve events run by local Jewish Community Centers, typically by their young adults division, include Chicago's Matzo Bash (in conjunction with Taglit - Birthright Israel, FIDF, and other groups), Orland's Twelve24, Dallas's Matzah Ball (in conjunction with the local Federation young adults division), and Las Vegas's 'Light it Up' (previously ran for 17 years as the Bagel Ball).
Cleveland's local Hillel young professionals group co-sponsors with FIDF the annual Wrap Up Bash.
Schmooz-a-Palooza was the long-running Los Angeles counterpart to the Matzo Ball, and was held for the 20th straight year in 2013. It originated with Stu & Lew Productions, which was acquired by JDate in 2006. The event evolved over the years from a social mixer to a party atmosphere, bringing together, for example, southern Californians who had not seen each other since their younger years in Jewish communal settings. It was also a noted opportunity for reconnecting and romance.
By the late 2000s and early 2010s, Schmooz-a-Palooza had become integrated into the Matzo Ball network of nationwide events and faced competition from other local events, including a local young Jewish professionals charitable group's directly competing mixer and a Jewish comedy night at the Laugh Factory, along with more loosely organized events, such as music performances by Jewish musicians and informal socializing and drinking organized by local Moishe Houses.
Similarly named events unaffiliated with SYJP
Other Christmas Eve singles events
Prior to Rudnick's organizing of the Matzo Ball in Boston in 1987 and expansion into other cities, Jewish organizations in other cities had used similar names for their own Christmas Eve singles events.
The Jewish Community Center of Dallas organizes its annual "Matzoh Ball" or "Matzah Ball" event, having begun in either 1981 or 1984. The event continues to be run each Christmas Eve under that name, now jointly organized by the JCC of Dallas and the local Jewish Federation young adults division, and is unaffiliated with the Matzo Ball event and Rudnick.
An identically named Matzoball event has been held on Christmas Eve in Toronto since 1988. As of 2013, it is sponsored by the Canadian unit of the Jewish National Fund and organized by Magen Boys Entertainment. The event organizers have indicated their desire to expand to other cities in Canada, particularly Montreal and Vancouver, in future years.
SYJP trademark disputes over Matzo Ball name
Rudnick and SYJP have also come into conflict with organizers of other events named similarly to Matzo Ball, including Seattle's Jewish Federation young leadership division, which changed it event name from Matzah Ball to Latkapalooza in 2004 after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Rudnik's attorneys. The Federation's attorney's insisted that because of the lapse in SYJP's federal trademark registration for the term in the late 1990s, and because the Federation had been using the term locally during that period, they were entitled to continue to do so.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles entertainment division organized a late spring "Matzah Bowl" event for a number of years, beginning in 1996. In Atlanta, the promoter of the 'Bagel Bash' organized an early spring bowling function for singles called the "Matzah Bowl". A 2009 Christmas Eve musical event at Brooklyn Bowl, co-sponsored by Israel's New York Consulate General, was dubbed "The Matzah Bowl". The event derived its name in part from its location in a Brooklyn bowling alley.
Other events not targeted at single adults
Smaller Jewish community entities have also used variations on the "Matzo Bowl" name for a variety of events, including for knowledge competitions held by individual synagogues and fundraising events organized by chapters of Alpha Epsilon Pi.
The Matzo Ball and similar events have been subject to mild criticism that the events are "meet markets" or, more punningly, "[kosher] meat markets." Women attendees tend to dress inappropriately in a revealing manner while men at the event are liable to use awkward pickup lines and noticeably prowl.
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- Matzo Ball official website
- The Ball official website
- Phoenix Mazelpalooza 2014
- San Francisco Latke Ball 2014
- Tampa Vodka Latke 2014
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- Cincinnati Latkapalooza 2014
- Seattle Latkepalooza 2013
- Chicago Matzo Bash 2014
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