Reflections On The Matzo Ball

by Heather Robinson


From New York Blueprint


In which one Jewish Woman reflects on a tradition

First off, a confession: I’ve been to a few Matzo Balls. Okay, more than a few. But this year my good friend Rachel, who recently moved back to the U.S. from Mexico City after exiting a long-term relationship, wanted to go. So I figured I’d step up.

And here’s the thing about the Matzo Ball: it’s a Jewish New York City singles tradition. In the words of Internet entrepreneur Ari Ackerman, whom I ran into, “I love when the Jews get together.” Perhaps Matzo Balls are like matzo balls: something Jews enjoy, including comparing them and kvetching about their imperfections.

This year, the Matzo Ball tradition – begun 27 years ago in Boston by then-college student Andy Rudnick – continued in cities across the U.S. New York was the scene of at least 5 incarnations (or 10 if you include the 5 venues that comprise “The Ball” – a Matzo Ball imitator that’s held in 5 separate locations and for which you can purchase one ticket and run around all night). Basically, Christmas Eve is the night for Jewish singles to party, and if you’re a “young professional” (code for anyone under 50, Jewish, with a job or at least a college degree, and no spouse) you’re either there or actively avoiding going and wondering what you might be missing.

Since your humble correspondent wasn’t about to schlep to ten places in sub-freezing temperatures wearing heels (as my mother is fond of saying, with one tuchus, you can’t be everywhere), this report isn’t meant to be comprehensive, just to share a taste of my matzoh balling.

In all, Rachel and I made three stops, starting at Capitale. This Matzo Ball, which host Nelly Rosenking spoke about last Monday on New York’s Channel 4 news at 7 p.m., was billed as “elegant” and a possible opportunity to network. I can’t say I noticed too many people talking business (more like greeting old friends, checking out the crowd, and bumping and grinding) but the marble columns and high ceilings at Capitale – which is the old Bowery Savings Bank – were lit periwinkle blue and purple, and looked beautiful.

We arrived early to find young women in extremely short skirts dancing, and young men in oxfords and jeans sitting at tables that had ‘reserved’ on them. Rachel, who was looking sleek in silver, asked a bartender for Proseco and he informed her that with our drink tickets, we were pretty much limited to vodka. While Rachel disputed this policy, a nice looking young man came over and started talking with her. Although he was asking her the requisite questionzzzzzzzzzz (“Where in the city do you live? What kind of music do you like?”), I couldn’t tell if she was interested and, wanting to give her plenty of space, decided to take a walk.

At one of the tables at the edge of the dance floor, I asked a short, silver-haired guy if I could join him. “Gordon,” the guy at the table, was what I’d term a “matzo ball denier.” (This is someone who, although over the age of 35 and clearly Jewish, claims to have never before attended a Matzo Ball. Right).

After a few minutes of listening to Gordon discuss the “candy store” of possibilities that await him every night on his computer when he logs onto JDate, I returned to Rachel, who clutched my shoulder.

“That guy kept asking me, ‘Are you sure you’re Jewish?'” she said. “He kept telling me, ‘Your nose doesn’t look Jewish.'”

He had also asked her age. When she replied, “Old enough,” and asked him his age, he said he was 30. “We’re in sort of different age brackets,” she said. He said, “Are you closer to 40?” She said yes, and he said, “Goodbye.”

“Charming,” I told her after she reported this to me. (In actuality Rachel, with her model’s cheekbones, was out of his league). “At least you know he thought you looked younger than your age, which you do.”

As I marked down this exchange in my notebook, a loquacious French guy rushed over to compliment my note taking. Before long, Rachel and I were deep into a few conversations, including one with a guy named Jay and his friend Eliav Levy. We wound up dancing with these charming fellows, one of whom had the matzo balls to let me quote him by name.

“The Matzo Ball is like a bar mitzvah,” said Eliav Levy. “When do we play Coke and Pepsi?”

Maybe we should have waited around to find out, but we were on to the next Matzo Ball.

Grabbing a cab outside of Capitale, we headed to PhD Penthouse in the Dream Downtown Hotel on West 16th Street in the meatpacking district – our initial stop on “The Ball” sequence. We were herded onto a big elevator and let out into an oblong room with parallel heated outdoor patio. Moving through the crowd wasn’t easy; by this time, around 11:00pm, the joint was extremely crowded and people were hopping and grinding to Pitbull’s “Timber.”

After Rachel and I managed to get drinks, a soulful-looking Mark Ruffalo lookalike approached me and smiled. Always the sensitive wing woman, Rachel excused herself and “Mark” and I chatted for a few minutes about our hobbies (mine reading, his snowboarding) whereupon he asked me if we could pose for a picture together. What the heck, I thought, trying to stave off visions of my image cut up in little pieces and tacked to some psycho’s wall. (The guy, who informed me he was an only child, did have sort of an intense stare).

After he asked me for my number and I gave it to him (in my defense, he was cute), I strolled around and ended up in a conversation with David, an acquaintance who not long ago had asked for my number and never called.

“Why do men do that?” I asked him.

“Because you’re the type of woman one takes seriously,” he said.

Pondering this tortured logic and looking around for Rachel’s sleek silver skirt, I stumbled into a tall, handsome guy who looked about 21.

“Dance with me,” he said, practically scooping me up into his arms and spilling my whiskey sour all over my favorite black top. (A stretchy halter-style garment, it’s been with me since I was about 21, and I figure when it stops looking good, I’ll have to hang up my heels and quit going to these things).

Trying to block out the probability that it would be biologically possible for me to have a child this man’s age, I set my $16 drink down on the only available surface I could find and allowed myself to be swept up in the sea of pulsating bodies.

His hands were around my waist (I’m a petite gal and was facing his chest, which smelled deliciously of Old Spice. Very old school for such a young guy).

We danced for a while. He complimented my breasts as some of the best he’d ever seen. (“Of course I haven’t really seen them yet,” he added).

I realized that I’d either have to get out of there or maybe wind up with more on my hands than I cared to handle. So it was on to the next Matzo Ball.

Which was actually the same Matzo Ball, at another location – The Park on 10th Avenue between 17th and 18th. Walking toward the venue, a pack of very young, wolflike men also headed in started hollering to us, specifically Rachel, stuff like, “Girl in silver! Get over here!”

“I don’t think I can take any more of this,” Rachel said. After pleading with her to join me, I accepted that she was matzo balled out. As she got into a cab, I readied myself for the third stop. After all, it was only 12:30 am, and while I firmly believe nothing good happens after 1 at any bar or club, I was determined to fulfill my journalistic mission.

To sum it up: The Park was quite pretty, with an outdoor garden where I ran into my colleague, intrepid Blueprint Arts & Culture Editor Alan Zeitlin. Ever helpful, Alan introduced me to a tall Frenchman, pictured with yours truly above (has France’s entire Jewish male population decamped to New York City?) with whom I had an interesting discussion about anti-Semitism. Alan was worried someone had stolen his jacket – but then he found it.

I ran into another old friend who declined to be quoted by name. When I shared with him my ambivalence about attending yet another Matzo Ball, he offered: “If you didn’t have mixed feelings about being here, I’d be worried about you.”

By then it was 1:30, and some of my fellow Jewish singles were getting sloppy. I danced with another fellow (Question for the ages: why are the guys who you don’t want to kiss so aggressive about trying to kiss you, and the guys you do want to kiss so shy about it?)

While I didn’t learn the answer at this year’s Matzo Ball, I learned that I still look good in a black halter-top. And perhaps that, for me – along with appreciating the fellowship of good friends – made it all worthwhile.

For a Jewish single, the Matzo Ball is a little like the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s dock: a night that, year in and year out, offers the possibility that this might be the night you meet someone special, and as you dance between clubs in the dark, you feel lit from within with the spirit of possibility, looking for light and feeling ever-hopeful.

This entry was written by and posted on January 13, 2015 at 2:53 pm and filed under Features.