The trend has been embraced in dozens of cities across the country, from Berkeley to Boca Raton, Chicago to Charlotte, DC to Dallas; in New York City, you can now find 15 or more venues hosting Christmas Eve shindigs for Jewish singles. But the phenomenon actually got its start right here in Boston. Back in 1986, a recent BU grad named Andrew Rudnick was dabbling in real estate by day, bartending by night, and looking — not so successfully — for love all the time.
"They say necessity is the mother of invention," recalls Rudnick, whose search for a nice Jewish girl took him to a singles mixer at a Boston hotel on Christmas Eve. But the awkward shuffling to cheesy music in the dark function room, the long lines for drink tickets, and the pervasive vibe of a prom-gone-wrong left him convinced he could do better. "It was a great idea to bring young Jewish kids together. Why wasn't this happening in a nightclub?" Rudnick wondered.
The answer, of course, was that all the clubs were closed. But Rudnick set out to change that the following year, persuading Lansdowne Street's club kings, the Lyons brothers, to let him try a night of networking and matchmaking on December 24 at the club where he worked, Metro (later the home of Avalon, then a construction site, and soon to become the new House of Blues). They didn't know what to expect: the Lyons brothers had never kept a club open on Christmas Eve, and it was Rudnick's first time promoting an event, so they were hoping for a few hundred attendees. Two thousand revelers showed up that night, a turnout so unanticipated that the club owners actually had to leave their own Christmas party to help staff the coatroom, pour drinks, and work the floor. The Matzo Ball was born.
At the end of the evening, when Rudnick found himself surrounded by people thanking him for the great night, asking when he would host another, he realized he'd tapped into something big. The crowd's enthusiasm — combined with the fact that he earned nearly as much in tips in one night as he made in a year's salary — convinced him to quit his job two weeks later to devote himself to starting the Society of Young Jewish Professionals. Today, the Matzo Ball that started it all takes place in two dozen cities. "It's taken on a life of its own," says Rudnick. "We don't really have to advertise anymore."
But the Matzo Ball now has plenty of competition. In some cities, December 24 has become a veritable battle of the balls, each promising the best party in town. One of the better-known contenders is, in fact, called simply the Ball, sponsored by the New York–based letmypeoplego.com, which claims to have put on the nation's biggest Jewish singles event each year since the Ball got its start in 1995 — last season's party drew a crowd in excess of 4300. Founder Jeff Strank has put his own spin on the new holiday tradition.
"I'd hate to do something where it's just people walking in and there's a DJ and that's all it is," says Strank, who strives to create environments that ensure his attendees always have "different things to see and do, different ways to interact."