NEW YORK (Dec. 28)
‘Twas the night before Christmas — and more than 3,000 Jewish singles gathered at a Manhattan hot spot to socialize the night away.
They came from all of New York’s boroughs, New Jersey and Connecticut, and from as far away as Toronto, and paid $25 — $20 if they had bought the tickets in advance — for an event called The Ball ’98, where they could dance, drink and, perhaps, meet the mate of their dreams.
While the 20-somethings and 30-somethings practiced the dance of flirtation at Webster Hall, a young man in a corner, dressed all in black, spoke on his cell phone.
Just call it a hip attempt at Jewish continuity in the 1990s.
The gathering was sponsored by Utopia Events, a New York-based group that sponsors events “where Jewish professionals can meet other Jewish professionals,” said Marni Schneider, a volunteer at The Ball.
Similar events, often referred to as “Matzah Balls,” were held in other large cities across the United States last week. And there were probably at least 10 others in Manhattan alone.
“On Christmas Eve, there aren’t too many places Jews can go to, other than for movies and Chinese food,” said Schneider.
Jeff Strank founded Utopia in 1995. Then a “dissatisfied attorney,” he formed the company after he attended a Jewish singles event and found it both poorly organized and poorly attended.
Utopia now sponsors events throughout the year. In addition to Christmas Eve, the nights before Thanksgiving and President’s Day are his most popular events.
His goal is simple: to create an “atmosphere not just about dancing and music, but where people could talk.”
Well, the “quiet rooms” at Webster Hall, a club with several floors in downtown Manhattan, were loud, and the crowded rooms were virtually impassable. Some people, standing against the walls, looked decidedly uncomfortable.
But, as hundreds boogied on a huge dance floor lit by strobe lights and a pulsating beat, others talked. Some even flirted.
When asked why she approached Uri Hort, Rachel Nash of Brooklyn said, “He’s the only one here with a large purple yarmulka. He told me that he worked at McDonald’s.”
At this, Hort, who lives in New City, a suburb north of New York City, smiled and said he was really in the construction business.
Some even appeared to have found at least a temporary partner. Brenda Bloomstone, a corporate accounts manager for a computer training firm in Toronto who was in New York visiting a friend, complained that the party was “too overwhelming.”
But she seemed quite comfortable with Ron Weisenberg, a lawyer from Hoboken, N.J., whom she had approached less than an hour earlier.
Weisenberg, who said he recently got out of a relationship, liked the odds at The Ball.
“Everyone knows why they’re here. It’s not like going to a bar. It’s self- selective,” he said. “Everyone’s Jewish and looking for someone else.”
The crowd appeared to be a fair cross-section of heterosexual Jewish singles aged 25-40 in New York. Fashion ranged from the formal — suits and ties for men, black spaghetti-strap dresses for women — to more casual clothes.
One man decided to look for a partner by wearing a buttoned-down shirt with cowboys all over it.
Nash’s observation rang true: There were few yarmulkas in sight. A few snippets of Russian-accented English could be overheard, as well as a few people speaking Hebrew.
Webster Hall, one of Manhattan’s largest clubs, was decorated in what might be called Christmas kitsch. Amid neon beer signs, clips of newspaper articles and framed paintings, tinsel and ornaments hung from reindeer on the walls. Old black-and-white movies played above some of the bars.
Perhaps to soften the nervousness of socializing, many people came in groups. Robin Sirota, a social worker from Brooklyn, came with three of her cousins.
The event might trace its lineage to Eastern Europe, where Jews would often gather together on Christmas Eve and other Jewish holidays for a different, more serious purpose: to study together in order to protect themselves from pogroms.
The Ball, now in its fourth year, claims to be the largest of the Manhattan Christmas parties for Jewish singles, and if the line that snaked down 11th Street long into the night was any indication, it left the competition far behind.
And the Christmas Eve events are only one aspect of the Jewish singles industry. Services and Shabbat dinners catering to singles are common, as are weekend retreats and vacation tours. Most participants are motivated, at least subconsciously, by the Jewish desire to marry within the flock.
But Uri Hort inadvertently offered another explanation: “If my father knew that I was looking for a Jewish girl, he would buy me anything I wanted,” he said.