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(photo credit: Courtesy photo/Brandi Ediss)
It all started with the first ever Matzo Ball, 20 years ago. A Florida cultural initiative called the Society of Young Jewish Professionals was looking to foster Jewish social networking during the holiday season, and throwing parties at dance clubs on Christmas Eve seemed like the best way to do it. Along with some of their gentile friends, young Jews came to the parties in droves, and today, SYJP claims to have facilitated more than 1,000 marriages through its activities. Over 10,000 attended last year's Matzo Balls, and this year more such parties are set to take place in cities including Miami, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C.
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Cultural programming aimed at young, with-it Jews has only grown more sophisticated since the inaugural Matzo Ball, and other Hanukka-inspired events are no exception. For the entirety of late December 2006, Jewish population centers around North America are being taken over by a myriad of nightlife options targeting Jewish residents in their 20s. Most of the parties are music-oriented, but all are aimed at diversifying each city's cultural offerings during a season dominated by Christmas.
One such event is the second annual Sephardic Music Festival, a New York City event being planned and produced by Modular Moods, a record label at the forefront of Jewish progressive jazz and electronic music. The organization has high hopes for the crossover potential of festival performer Y-Love, an African-American Jew who raps in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and Yiddish. Y-Love will take the stage along with ethnic groove band Pharaoh's Daughter for the festival's kickoff event, while performers at the festival's other shows include Jerusalem hip hop act Hadag Nachash, piyut jammers Asefa, Ladino diva Sarah Aroeste, social action balladeer Aliza Hava and Connecticut's Afro Semitic Experience.
New York's Lion's Den club is putting on its own Jewish rock party this year on December 24, with alternative band Heedoosh set to headline its first gig since going on hiatus at the end of the summer. Jerusalem grunge and trance ensemble Hamakor will also perform at the Christmas Eve party, making its first ever appearance west of Tel Aviv.
JDub Records, meanwhile, the organization that broke Hassidic reggae star Matisyahu and currently represents a full roster of rule-breaking Jewish musicians, presented the Vodka Latka Festival of Rights last week in Los Angeles. The event featured performances from new JDub flagship artist Golem, as well as the label's up-and-coming turntablist DJ Anaan, beat boxer Yuri Lane, the San Fransisco-based Leonard Cohen tribute act Conspiracy of Beards and Six Feet Under producer Jill Soloway.
Another JDub bash, this one co-sponsored by Heeb magazine, will take place in New York, Washington, D.C., Boston and Chicago this week, with performances by Golem, klezmer and hip-hop artist SoCalled, members of world beat ensemble Balkan Beat Box and indie Jewish supergroup the Leevees, whose members are embarking on a mini-tour of their own as well. The Leevees have surely picked up where actor Adam Sandler left off in presenting Hanukka-themed songs with endearing comic lyrics. The Leevees aren't the only act vying to carry on Sandler's legacy, but armed with indie credibility, the band may be the one that rocks the hardest.
Last winter, an ensemble called What I Like About Jew enjoyed considerable success, but this year, its core duo - Rockapella founder Sean Altman and VH1 personality Rob Tannenbaum - has started new groups, each embarking on ambitious concert tours.
Altman's Jewmongus is geared up for seven club dates at seven cities across the American Northeast, with a cabaret-style variety show of songs and stand-up acts. Touring with Jewmongus is Chappelle's Show and Road Trip alum Todd Barry, along with plenty of other performers.
What I Like About Jew's other spin-off, Tannenbaum's new Good For the Jews tour, is set to stage six shows between Boston and Wisconsin. Together with David Fagin, the front man for power-pop sensation the Rosenbergs (who have shared stages with the likes of No Doubt and the Strokes), Good For the Jews will feature loads of fresh material, as well as special guests like Lisa Loeb and big band revivalist Julian Fleisher.
Novelty acts like Good For the Jews may be the future of funky young American Jewry during the holiday season. As Tannenbaum told The Washington Post earlier this month, he has "helped create a forum where Jews who felt similarly adrift have been able to create their own definition of Judaism" at this time of year.