For the last eight years on Christmas Eve, San Francisco’s Latke Ball has been the sexier alternative to the predictable Chinese food and a movie.
And more importantly, it’s been the signature fund-raiser for the Young Adults Division of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.
But this year a for-profit party called the Matzo Ball is being held less than 24 hours after the last drink is mixed at the Latke Ball. As fun as a food war may sound, YAD organizers are concerned that a giant national knaidlach just might flatten their potato pancake — endangering fund-raising efforts for YAD and breaking up the tribe.
“You see people, new and old, from people you haven’t seen since Jewish summer camp to people you saw at a bar last week,” said Casey Berman of San Francisco, who has attended the Latke Ball. “And it is a fund-raiser for the YAD — definitely a worthy cause.”
Berman agrees with YAD organizers that the Matzo Ball has caused “confusion and frustration” in the community. The possibility of losing the support of young Jews like Berman is just what Latke Ball organizers fear.
But according to Matzo Ball organizer Jesse Kurn, the Boston-based organization is not here to crash a party, but to offer to the San Francisco community what has been a successful venture on the East Coast for 18 years.
“There’s actually a line in the play “Modern Orthodox” currently on Broadway where one of the characters says, ‘When I was nice young Jewish girl I used to go to the Matzo Ball,'” said Kurn.
The Latke Ball traditionally is attended by 1,000 to 1,200 young Jews in the Bay Area. Because Christmas Eve falls on Shabbat this year, organizers decided to hold it on Thursday, Dec. 23, at The Factory, 525 Harrison St., S.F. Tickets cost $22 to $30, at www.latkeball.org.
“We are a volunteer charity event. We understand that they [Matzo Ball] are a profit-making enterprise, and this could be detrimental to our party,” said a concerned Gary Rabkin, one of the Latke Ball’s volunteer co-chairmen.
YAD would not disclose how much the Latke Ball typically raises, but estimates are in the ballpark of $20,000. However, Rabkin did emphasize that the event is the “lifeblood” of the organization, and that 100 percent of the funds raised are funneled directly back into YAD events. A decline in attendance, he expressed, would directly impact YAD programming.
This year the Matzo Ball will be held in 13 cities, including San Francisco at Ruby Skye, 420 Mason St., on Friday, Dec. 24. Tickets are $20 to $25, and available atwww.matzoball.org. The Society for Young Jewish Professionals organizes the parties, which are attended by approximately 2,000 people each.
Previously held in San Francisco from 1993 to 1995, the Matzo Ball is returning to the Bay Area because the Internet has made ticket sales and marketing easier, according to Kurn.
Kurn claimed that he did not know that the Latke Ball, which began in 1997, was traditionally held on Christmas Eve, and he views the two parties as different types of events. His response to confused Bay Area Jews is “try something new, try something that’s been a hit.”
The events are different. While the Matzo Ball is marketed as a singles event, the Latke Ball supports YAD’s programs such as Club Fed, Shabbat dinners and newcomer events. But it also performs a community service. This year there will be a food-drive campaign at the event.
When Latke Ball committee members learned about the Matzo Ball they “doubled the marketing efforts,” said Rabkin, and they decided to contact the popular online dating service JDate to ask for a sponsorship.
“We talked to JDate and asked them to promote us. They asked us to put together a proposal and they then rejected it a couple of hours [after it was submitted],” said Rabkin.
“I’m a supporter of JDate and believe that Jews should have an opportunity to meet other Jews. However I do think JDate should have corporate responsibility.”
According to JDate, an informal agreement to sponsor the Matzo Ball was agreed upon as early as January of last year.
Lavinia Evans, site manager for JDate, claims that the Latke Ball was asked to submit a proposal before JDate learned that the event would be in conflict with the Matzo Ball.
And as far as hosting the Matzo Ball on Shabbat?
“The vast majority of our membership is secular,” said Evans. “So it doesn’t create much of an uproar, but it is not ideal.”