Three Hours And Six Minutes At The MatzoBall, The Biggest Jewish Singles Event Of The Year
The MatzoBall, an dance party for Jewish singles on Christmas Eve, is in its 31st year. This year, Schmooze correspondent Jenny Singer attended the New York City MatzoBall, one of ten MatzoBalls held across America, after an eye-opening interview with the event’s founder, Andy Rudnick. Below is her minute-by-minute account of the evening:
10:30 P.M., Christmas Eve: I get ready for the MatzoBall in the bathroom of the hotel where my parents are staying while visiting New York City from the West Coast. They are very understanding that I have to “go to work” on a night when they are in town. I ask my mom if I look like Kim Kardashian; she says no. I say she probably doesn’t know what I’m talking about. She says, gently but firmly, “I know what Kim Kardashian looks like.”
10:40 P.M.: A childhood friend, whom I will call Golda Meir for the purposes of this story, arrives and joins me for the night. We are determined not to buy any pricy club drinks, so we drink old tequila mixed with Sprite from a waterbottle. My dad looks at his watch and earnestly tells us to “leave soon, so you won’t be late for work.”
10:43 P.M.: We are in a Via on the way to the MatzoBall! Via is a ride-sharing company that was founded by Israelis, so we decide the extra expense is “cultural.” Golda refuses to drink any more of the Sprite and tequila due to the fact that it tastes bad.
11:07 P.M.: We arrive very cold and mostly sober. The event is in Chinatown, at an event space called Capitale. It has a Roman turn-of-the-century edifice complete with soaring columns and marble floors. It clearly used to be a bank. We decide to bypass this fact, as we do not traffic in Jewish stereotypes, and soberly hand over $5 each for the coat check.
11:10 P.M.: The interior ballroom is draped in white tulle and glowing violet lights, shot through with flashing light effects from above. A few hundred people are gathered on the dance floor, while others mill around the perimeter, alone or in packs. It’s surprisingly inviting, an equal blend of nightclub and suburban bat mitzvah party. Most of the women are wearing little dresses and high black heels. Many of the men appear to be wearing pajamas. “If I Were A Rich Girl,” the Gwen Stefani song that samples from “Fiddler On The Roof,” reverberates throughout the bank from the DJ station at the far end of the ballroom.
11:13 P.M.: We dance. After “If I Were A Rich Girl” the DJ plays Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me.” As the dance floor quakes with young Jews belting out “Hey! Must be the money!” we agree that, regardless of cost, we need drinks. We head for one of the makeshift bars just outside the ballroom.
11:20 P.M.: We finally reach the head of the line, after watching people before us part with twelve dollars apiece for weak drinks served in what are essentially Dixie Cups. We order, and a man in a plaid button-down appears out of nowhere and asks if he can buy mine. I hesitate, and he offers to buy Golda’s as well. I am at a crossroads; my time is not for sale to strangers, and if it were, I wouldn’t sell it for $12 worth of watered down tequila. But who am I to drag a beloved friend to an event, then deny her a free drink for the sake of my principles? Plus, with 12 extra dollars I can buy a sandwich later! I accept.
“You look familiar,” the man says to me, by way of introduction. “Yes, this is a Jewish event,” I tell him.
11:22 P.M.: Golda thanks the man in plaid and takes her leave. The man, whom I will call Moshe Dayan for the purposes of this story, works for an activist organization that works in Israel and the Palestinian territories. I tell him that I can guess the name of his Israel gap year program in three tries. I get it in two.
11:30 P.M.: Dayan realizes why I look familiar — he knows my sister! And my roommate. And my former boss. Ah, Judaism. We discuss pop singer Lorde’s recent decision to cancel her Israel concert after pressure from BDS activists. He says that he’s glad that she did it, but wishes she would have given a clearer declaration about her political intent. I inform him that, sadly, this is a bad opinion. The correct opinion is that she shouldn’t be canceling her concert in Israel, especially if she’s not going to cancel her concerts in Russia. However, we can still enjoy “Royals.” I say that I am going to find my friend, and I give him my number. He says that he will use my number to contact me and that we will go on a date. I agree that we will likely go on a date.
I reenter the ballroom. The DJ is playing “Gold Digger” by Kanye West.
11:45 P.M.: I join Golda, who is dancing with abandon in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a small ring of men with awe in their eyes. All of them are shorter than her.
12:25 A.M., Christmas Day: In the bathroom, two strangers are fixing their hair in the mirror and connecting over their therapists, who helped them de-stigmatize psychiatric medication. One woman compliments another woman’s breasts. Another woman tells the woman next to her “Your lips are amazing.”
We leave the bathroom. Golda screams “Stop!” at the woman in front of us. “There’s toilet paper stuck to your shoe,” Golda tells her, breathlessly. The woman rips off the toilet paper and pulls Golda into a tight hug. Their sheets of straightened hair flow seamlessly into one other.
12:30 A.M.: On our way back from the bathroom, a man going the other direction passes us. He reaches around and rests his hand on my waist for no reason. I tell Golda, and she demonstrates to me how a man she was dancing with earlier inserted his thigh between her legs, uninvited. We scream our fury over the pounding music.
12:31 A.M.: A man approaches me and asks if he can buy me a drink. I tell him no, thank you. He turns to Golda. “Can I buy YOU a drink?” he says. “I’m not going to be your second choice,” Golda responds indignantly. The man looks confused. “What if I buy you a drink but you owe me nothing?” he asks. “I already owed you nothing,” she tells him, and we walk away.
12:33 A.M.: A shaking man in a kippah and tzit-tzit approaches us. “My grandpa used to read the Forward!” he tells me. “Before he died.”
1:00 A.M.: The man with whom Golda is dancing leans in and asks her to come to his table with him, which means that he and a group of friends paid over $500 for access to a VIP area with some amenities. “I have bottle service,” he says. “I’ll come if she can come as well,” Golda says, jerking her head in my direction. The man gives me a once-over. “Nah” he says, and dances away.
1:15 A.M.: We devise a system to filter out men: When they approach us we exchange names, then ask “Who did you vote for in the 2016 election?” This turns out to be extremely efficient. An attractive man approaches me and asks me to dance. He shares my dad’s first name. “If I voted it would have been for Bernie, I guess,” he says. Our interaction is over.
1:20 A.M.: Two similar-looking men, possibly brothers, circle us. Eventually, through some silent system, each selects one of us to speak to. One voted for Clinton, the other didn’t vote.
1:23 A.M.: We have accidentally stumbled upon a clump of male Israelis. “Where are you from in Israel?” I ask the man next to me, whom I will call Ahad Ha’am for the purposes of this story. “The South,” he says. “Where in the South?” I ask. “You won’t know it,” he says. “I will know it!” I respond, irritated. He tells me. I’ve never heard of it.
1:30 A.M.: On the edge of the dance floor, Ahad Ha’am and I chat about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He says that Americans don’t understand the conflict. It’s too dark for him to see me roll my eyes. We discuss the corruption charges against Netanyahu. I type my number into his phone.
1:50 A.M.: Golda and I dance. Dozens of couples are wrapped around each other, kissing. It is actually a little hard to move without knocking into people who are kissing each other.
2:00 A.M.: The DJ announces the end of the event, and we stumble toward the exit, where an extremely inebriated man is being escorted off the premises by a team of bouncers. We talk to a man who is headed toward our same neighborhood. We try to figure out if we can suggest that we all split a cab without appearing to come on to him. He also seems to be trying to split a cab with us without having us mistake it for romantic interest.
2:13 A.M.: We all get in our own cabs and go home. I have a text on my phone from Moshe Dayan asking me out on a date, and a text from Ahad Ha’am that is drunken gibberish. The MatzoBall, which has a reputation for trashiness, was surprisingly fun. The drinks were weak, the patriarchy was just as out of control as it is in any other club-like environment, and it was a reminder that male millennial Jews really need to develop more thoughtful political convictions. But for a Jew on Christmas Eve, it was pretty nice.
Jenny Singer is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny