So what's a nice Jewish boy to do on Christmas?
For Jews and others who don't celebrate the Christian holiday, this can be a fairly boring, sometimes lonely, time of year. There are few places to go and even fewer people to hang out with, so most non-observers spend the holiday at home or with a small group of friends biding their time until the world opens up again.
Others, however, get a little meshuga!!
While most people were stuffing stockings late last night, a couple thousand Jewish residents and others were shaking their tochuses at the aptly named Matzo and Falafel balls. And if those parties weren't enough to sate their party fever, there's always tonight's Gefilte Fish Gala.
"We're here because basically we're two partying Jews," said Andrew Libit, 25, sitting at the bar of Lulu's New Orleans Cafe--site of the 13th annual Matzo Ball--with friend Andrew Dekelbaum, 27.
If not for the Christmas Eve event, he would be home doing "rabbinical studies," Libit said. Actually, on further thought: "We'd probably be getting sloshed with a bunch of Catholics."
In addition to the Matzo Ball, the third annual Falafel Ball, a somewhat more sedate gathering, was held at both Cities in Adams-Morgan and Lewie's in Bethesda, while tonight's Gefilte Fish Gala at Polly Esther's is the sixth incarnation of that event. (The Matzo Ball also is hosted in five other cities along the East Coast.)
Aside from the kitschy names and the predominance of Jewish participants, the scenes at the clubs are the same as on any other night. Attendees do not, in other words, nosh on matzo balls or falafel sandwiches.
The parties have, nevertheless, become eagerly anticipated events for many Jewish residents. The Matzo Ball, in particular, has transformed into a reunion of sorts, with many of the same people showing up every year.
"This has become our annual tradition," said Lisa Kaplan, a Matzo Ball attendee for eight years. "If you're Jewish on Christmas, there's not much to do unless you go for Chinese food or to the movies."
The party also has a curious knack for playing Cupid.
At least 350 marriages have been spawned by the various Matzo Balls, said local organizer Michael Goldstein, a phenomenon attendees attribute to its standing as one of the only places to go on Christmas Eve.
"The truth is a lot of other parties [throughout the year] tend to attract nerdier people," said Carrie Israel, a lawyer who met her husband, David, at last year's ball. "People come out of the woodwork for this one."
Despite the common purpose, all is not kosher among organizers of the events.
Normally, all three parties are held on Christmas Eve, but because it fell on a Friday this year, and therefore, the Jewish Sabbath, the Gefilte Fish Gala was moved to Christmas night, something organizers say the other two should have done as well.
"There's a sense of displeasure that these organizations are focusing on the Jewish community on the Sabbath," said Harley Leibenson, director of adult services for the D.C. Jewish Community Center, which is hosting the Gefilte Fish Gala.
Unlike the other two events, the gala is free and donations are given to charity.
The Jewish Community Center also led its annual citywide community service project yesterday during which participants brought gifts and their company to shelters, hospitals and the like.
"They're for-profit groups and they're out to make a buck," Leibenson said. "But Jews really are not supposed to be doing those activities" on the Sabbath.
Goldstein, who is Jewish, said he does not feel conflicted about having the party on the Sabbath and did not expect it to affect attendance.
"We have this problem every seven years," he said. "Basically the way we look at it is, we're not a religious organization. The party group caters to Jewish professionals, and it's their choice about whether they want to enjoy the Sabbath or not."
The Falafel Ball is run by the DC Society of Young Professionals, an event group that hosts a range of parties and does not have a religious affiliation.
Libit and Dekelbaum said they weren't concerned about the party being on Friday night.
"We're not religious or anything," Libit said.
"We're more reformed," Dekelbaum quickly corrected.
Indeed, most partygoers care only to the extent that the events give them something to do on a night when they might otherwise be home feeling blue.
"I'd be alone or maybe go to the movies with a friend" if there wasn't a party, said Jonah Green, a clinical social worker from Wheaton who is gearing up for tonight's fish fete. "If it wasn't for Jewish community events, I'd be miserable."
CAPTION: Partygoers work the room at the annual holiday Matzo Ball at Lulu's New Orleans Cafe on M Street NW.