Jewish people may not celebrate Christmas but we certainly have our share of Christmas traditions. Probably the most universal: a movie and Chinese food on Christmas Day.
Growing up not far from New York City and attending Washington University, which was filled with students from the New York/New Jersey area, my Jewish college friends and I would meet in the city on Christmas Eve for an evening of ice skating at Rockefeller Center followed by dinner in Chinatown.
Fast-forward 30 years to 2009 where Christmas Eve has become one of the biggest Jewish party nights of the year. Dozens of Jewish-themed soirees are held across the country, including the Matzo Ball and the Matzo Bowl, although neither of these nor any of the other "hot" Jewish parties of a national scope are happening in St. Louis this year.
According to JTA, organizers of the Matzo Ball say hundreds of married couples have met at their events, which are expected to draw some 12,000 to 15,000 partygoers this year in locations such as New York, Miami and Chicago.
The Matzo Bowl, which will take place in a Brooklyn, N.Y. bowling alley, features music and drink, with rock and roll, funk and reggae. Another Jewish singles event, The Ball, started in 1994 by the group Let My People Go, expects about 3,000 guests at its New York and Los Angeles-based parties.
Even irreverent Heeb magazine, the Jewish periodical that prides itself on nonconformity, has gotten into the act in recent years with a line of Jewish Christmas parties, though its offerings, such as strip dreidel, tend to be more alternative in nature. This year's "Heebonism" parties will take place in five cities, including Chicago.
From 2005 to 2008, St. Louis had the DecaDANCE on Christmas Eve for Jewish singles, sponsored by B'nai B'rith and a few other organizations, including the Jewish Light. However, shrinking attendance, a lack of sponsorship and increasing costs to produce have kept it from returning this year, says Michelle Gralnick, executive director of B'nai B'rith of St. Louis.
"B'nai B'rith regrets not being able to put on the event but it was no longer cost effective," she explained. "Hopefully, if there is interest and more sponsorship dollars, it could return in 2010."
* On the subject of parties, veteran St. Louis restaurateur Pablo Weiss is closing downtown Kitchen K on Jan. 1 and reopening as a new concept restaurant and party space in the same location, in the historic Merchandise Mart building at the corner of 10th Street and Washington Avenue. After an extensive renovation, Weiss will reopen in early 2010 as a separate restaurant called The Pacific Grille and a new event space, The California Room.
The Pacific Grille will be housed in the space currently known as the K Bar, feature fresh California cuisine and be open for lunch only. Kitchen K's main dining room will become the new California Room event space, which can hold up to 200 people for private functions.
* Attorney Alvin Wolff Jr., and Jewish Light board member, has published a survival guide for anyone who is injured in a bicycle or motorcycle accident in Missouri. The guide explains the legal process in straightforward language and helps readers to understand the seven mistakes that could sink their claims. Aptly, the guide is called The Total Guide for Motorcycle and Bicycle Accident Victims in Missouri and the Seven Mistakes that Could Sink Your Claim ($16.95). For ordering and more information, go to www.alvinwolff.com
* In case you thought there was no Jewish angle to the Tiger Woods sex scandal, guess again. Danielle Berrin of the blog site Hollywood Jew reports that Rachel Uchitel, 34, the woman who set in motion the unraveling of Woods' off-course private life, is Jewish. Apparently, she is the granddaughter of Maurice Uchitel, a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine who parlayed a successful business in women's shoulder pads into ownership of the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami and the El Morocco nightclub, Manhattan's society hotspot in the 1960s.