Real Life

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

"I don't date Jewish guys," Lara said. "This is like going to a gay bar."

The place was getting packed. It was more crowded than the malls' after-Christmas sales. I kept running into people I had met at other young-single-professional-Jewish events or from the matchmaker dating service. Then I talked to the shy, Star Trek-obsessed girl I had met during the Yenta story. She looked great.

"Everyone says that," she told me.

She has lost weight, she was wearing a really pretty sheer black top, and she was smiling and dancing on a stage. She said the matchmaker service worked out really well for her: She has met a lot of people.

Downstairs looked like a mosh pit. It was packed wall-to-wall, body-to-body with people. You couldn't talk to anyone without being moved along or mashed and thrown into the stranger in front of you. I went back upstairs where some annoying blond was programming my friend Josh Danart's number into her cell phone.

Somewhere around midnight the music stopped. People shouted to be quiet. I told the blond to be quiet, but she kept talking about how much more she enjoys smoking since she started yoga because it helps her inhale deeper.

I didn't know what was going on. But then they started playing "Israelism," which sounds like a club mix of "Aleinu Shalom," and the party resumed.

I'm told that downstairs they lit the Shabbat candles, broke out the challah and said the blessing over the bread.

They did this because there was a little controversy since Christmas Eve fell on Friday night. Jews technically aren't supposed to go out and party from sunset Friday until sundown Saturday. On the Sabbath, Jews are supposed to go to religious services, pray and then be good Jews and go home. That's why the JCC, which usually sponsors the event, didn't; instead it was hosted by Kit Katz, a private Jewish party-planning group (Rex Solomon, owner of Houston Jewelry, says Kit Katz is basically him).

"Anytime you get three Jewish people together, there's going to be two arguments," Rex said. "We got a lot of flak."

By lighting the Sabbath candles and saying a few prayers, organizers turned the party into a big oneg shabbat (after Friday-evening services, Jews usually stick around the synagogue eating cookies and cake and talking to their friends). On the Kit Katz Web site, Rex argued that the party was "critical to Jewish survival." Jewish people have to meet other Jews, he wrote, and "preserve the life of the Jewish people." The way Rex viewed the situation, it would be a bigger mitzvah (good deed) to gather people together than to celebrate the Sabbath at home, alone. (Besides, he couldn't find a club to book Saturday night.)

Some Jews weren't too keen on saying blessings in a bar. They were drunk at a party, and they didn't think it was the right place for religion. (And technically candles are supposed to be lit at sundown.) Some thought it was beautiful. And other people, like me, didn't even notice.

I found Lara. We danced, drank and talked to more strangers. Around 1 a.m. a lot of Chinese people showed up. Then some black guy asked us to "enjoy" his girlfriend while he watched.

"We're outta here," Lara said.

Lara tucked one last business card into her purse, and we went home. The next day I went to a movie with some new Jewish friends I met at the Matzo Ball (and my Jewish friend who refused to go to the Matzo Ball). At The Talented Mr. Ripley, we ran into more people who had been at the Matzo Ball. Then we went to eat Chinese, but we couldn't find a place that was open before 5 p.m.

"This is blatant anti-Semitism," Josh joked, at the third closed restaurant.

So we ate Thai food, made jokes and watched a Woody Allen movie. It was the best Christmas ever.

God bless us, every one.

E-mail Wendy Grossman at wendy.grossman@houstonpress.com.

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