Christmas doesn’t just entail Chinese food and movies for Jews anymore.
The pandemic has turned many traditions on their head in 2020, and 2021’s lineup of things to do on Christmas has changed as well. For those looking to switch up the usual tried-and-true Christmas to do, there are options around the city on how to spend the day.
However, along with new possibilities for Jews to find some cheer on Dec. 24 and 25, some old favorites have gone missing.
Regardless of how one plans to spend the day, they can take comfort knowing they have a few options.
After 30-plus years of hosting the singles event MatzoBall in the Philadelphia area, the event has dropped the ball this year. Though MatzoBall will take place in six U.S. cities on Christmas Eve this year, Philadelphia will not be one of them.
Founder Andrew Rudnick declined to comment on why.
But this isn’t the first year Philadelphia has missed out on the party. In 2020, MatzoBall went virtual, holding an online speed dating event, but holding off on an in-person party. In 2019, Voyeur Nightclub in Philadelphia hosted the event.
In previous years, MatzoBall was hugely popular among Jewish singles, said David Finger of Wilmington. Finger attended the MatzoBall in Philadelphia for several years in the 1990s. He even met a lawyer there one year whom he dated for several months.
In the ’90s, MatzoBall was held at the now-defunct Aztec Club on Delaware Avenue, along with several other clubs on the same strip, with attendance ballooning to 1,000 people, Finger said. He remembered a huge paper mâché dragon with lasers coming out of its eyes at the Aztec Club.
“It was kitschy, but it was fun,” he said.
For Finger, who spent Christmas day in the typical Jewish fashion of watching flicks and eating Chinese food with his family, MatzoBall was a fun way to make the sometimes arduous task of dating a little easier. Everyone there already had one thing in common: They were all Jewish. It helped break the ice.
“I thought it was a brilliant idea,” Finger said. “It catered to an audience that was available then and wanted something to do.”
MatzoBall wasn’t the only event that catered to Jewish Philadelphians on Christmas Eve that locals will miss this year. The Gershman Y, formerly at 401-11 S. Broad St., sponsored the Moo Shu Jew Show, a comedy night produced by comedian Cory Kahaney and accompanying Chinese food dinner.
Philadelphia Jewish Film and Media, the surviving offshoot of the Gershman Y, stopped hosting the event after the organization left Broad Street in 2018.
Along with the Moo Shu Jew Show, other popular events, such as Latkepalooza, were also canceled indefinitely.
“They’re in limbo right now,” PJFM Program & Digital Marketing Manager Matt Bussy said. “I mean, we’d love to bring them back, but, yeah, they’re done.”
Bussy said there is still some hope for a Moo Shu Jew Show revival in Philadelphia, but not by PJFM. After the Gershman Y move, community members also were upset by the cancellation of the Y’s Gay Bingo event. Congregation Rodeph Shalom picked up the program.
But because Latkepalooza and Moo Shu Jew Show no longer align with PJFM’s mission, Bussy said the organization won’t pick up those events.
“Now that we are strictly film and media, our programs need to have something related to that,” Bussy said.
Though some old favorites may be missing this year, new opportunities for Jews on Christmas have emerged, adapting to changing Jewish demographics, such as interfaith families, and changing needs, such as pandemic-friendly events.
The Jewish Relief Agency, which serves 6,000 low-income families in the Greater Philadelphia area, is holding the Caring Cards program, asking community members to create cards for recipients of food boxes.
“A lot of the people that we serve are older, live alone and are struggling with isolation,” Volunteer Program Manager Jenny Rubin said. “So taking some time out of your day … to send a little light into someone else’s world can be really useful.”
Jewish families also can attend the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History’s “Being ___ At Christmas” virtual event, a day of programming on Christmas, consisting of a tot Shabbat, storytelling and music.
WNMAJH has historically been open on Christmas and is closed to the public due to the pandemic.
Previous iterations were called “Being Jewish At Christmas,” but the event was renamed to accommodate the diversifying audience it attracted.
“Whoever you are on Dec. 25, you are welcome to be that with us on this day,” WNMAJH Director of Communications and Public Engagement Emily August said.
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