Real Life

Merry Matzo Ball. Houston's Jewish singles mambo away the Christmas blues

One year I stayed up 48 hours so I could sleep through Christmas. I've always hated that holiday: It's the most depressing day of the year. Everyone else is out stuffing stockings, and I'm at home eating leftover Chinese food, watching Miracle on 34th Street for the 30,000th time.

The year I slept through Christmas (formerly known as the best Christmas ever), my friend Roger went to a swank black-tie benefit in New York, the Matzo Ball.

Roger and I lived in different worlds. His was more fun.

So I was very excited this year to attend my first Matzo Ball. More than a thousand Jewish singles slammed into Spy on Christmas Eve to get drunk, dance, fall in love or just forget about Christmas.

"It's like the high holy days," said one of the organizers, Rex Solomon. "People you never see come out."

Houston's Matzo Ball is the biggest fund-raiser for the Jewish Community Center's singles program. It was started six years ago after rabbis realized that Jews were marrying gentiles in record numbers and not raising their kids Jewish. They wanted to create another place for Jewish singles to meet. It has been a huge success, mostly because there really isn't anything else for Jews to do Christmas Eve. Hell, the third Matzo Ball at benjy's was shut down by the fire marshal, Rex said. He sounds pretty proud about that. (Rumors were that some skinheads tipped off the cops 'cause they were pissed off that Jews were having a good time.)

I went with my neighbor Lara Naaman, who wore a tight black velvet minidress with sparkly red flames on it, a red feather boa and three-inch heels.

She tried to talk me into a glittery red dress, but I was set on wearing black. Most everyone else did.

"What is this?" Lara asked. "Jew depression?"

When we got there only four people were on the dance floor upstairs groovin' to "Wild Wild West." Downstairs was supposedly for the 35-and-up crowd -- the music was meant to be older and softer, more conducive to conversation.

We sat down and talked to a guy who asked us if we were Jewish and said he was looking for a Jewish wife. (People apparently have met their mates at the Matzo Ball. I tried to find out who had gotten hitched, but no one could name names.) We told him to take the desperation down a notch.

His buddy, Bill Brookstein (he wanted me to write his name down), said he had come 'cause the other guy told him there'd be lots of horny Jewish women.

Bill leaned over and whispered to me, "I'm conducting my own Miss Houston contest -- so far you're in the top five."

They asked us to dance. Lara told them she had a wooden leg.

Back upstairs, "Mambo No. 5" was blaring. It turned out to be the song of the evening. They played it upstairs, they played it downstairs, they played it upstairs again. It was like dancing to the radio. But we like "Mambo No. 5," so we danced and talked to foreign guys who said they had come to talk to and touch Jewish women. Then we asked some girl where she had bought her furry, milk cow-patterned skirt.

Wherever we went, I noticed a guy in a black suit was always a few feet away. This started to worry me because I've watched way too many mobster movies.

He walked over, stuck out his hand and said: "You're Wendy."

He recognized me from the matchmaker's book. (You may recall I wrote about my failed attempt to find anything close to love at the JCC's Jewish dating service. See "The Yenta," October 14, 1999.) Turns out he's the doctor the matchmaker wanted to hook me up with -- after I told her I never wanted to date anyone ever again. I got his card.

Next to me Lara was talking to two Christian guys who didn't realize they had stumbled onto a Jew festival.

Lara asked if they were circumcised.

Mike Doyle, a bail bondsman, said he had been circumcised by a Jewish doctor -- so everything was kosher.

Troy Kosub said he didn't know if the turtle had a shell or not.

Lara tried illustrating with her hands, but he still seemed confused. We offered to take a look. Instead, Mike pulled out his cell phone and called Troy's mom.

He handed the phone to Lara, who handed the phone back to Mike, who handed the phone to me.

"Hi," I said. "Your son ended up at a Jew party, and we're wondering if he's circumcised?"

Yes, she said. She sounded horrified.

"Thank you," I told her. "Merry Christmas."

Troy looked more shocked than his mom sounded. He just stood there repeating that he had to see her tomorrow for Christmas dinner.

We kissed him on the cheek, gave him a hug and told him it would be okay.

A few minutes later I realized that my mother was not going to be happy that I was at a Jewish singles party talking to two goys. Lara said her mother wouldn't care, her mother married a Greek Orthodox.

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