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December 21, 2016 by

The Misogyny of the MatzoBall


CW: Please note that this post contains references to sexual assault. 

The first time I realized that my body was, literally, up for grabs I was 18. It was September of my freshman year of college, and I was attending Wesleyan’s infamous Sex Party. The Sex Party felt oddly like a high school dance, but with harder drugs, women in lingerie, and even less concern for anything bordering on consent. I was tipsy, and anxious, still adjusting to my month-long foray into adult living. I remember my friend motioning to me to walk outside onto the large back porch, when all of a sudden there was a man standing in front of me with a crew cut, squeezing my breasts. What alarmed me most about this moment was the look in his eyes—calm, casual, matter of fact, as if he were merely picking up something he had dropped, something that had always belonged to him. Moments later, he was gone. He never spoke to me, and I never saw him again—a fact that always surprised me, given that we would spend four years living on the same tiny college campus.

Seven years later, I remain haunted by that moment and by the extent to which my body will never totally belong to me. A few months ago news emerged that Wesleyan for years had on staff a man whose job it was to oversee sexual assault hearings, who had been fired from a previous job for sexually propositioning a 15-year-old girl. The hearings he oversaw, we were reassured in an email from the President, were not affected by this fact. A few months after that, I received an email from my Boston prep school; it had never been much for consent education. A teacher about whom I had harbored concerns for years, and had complained about, had carried on an inappropriate relationship with an 18-year-old recent graduate and had been fired. Again, I was reassured that no other students were affected by his behavior.

The revelations of assault and mismanagement at the places my mother had sent me to be educated and taken care of compelled her to tell me softly and unemotionally the story of her own assault on the phone one night. At the age of 13, she had been assaulted several times by the father of the children for whom she babysat. She never told her mother and mused that “it was just one of those things that happened in those days.” My mother, a clinical psychologist, who taught me from birth to name my feelings at all times, seemed suddenly unable to name her own feelings. “I almost never thought about it”, she said softly, “until that woman, you know the one on the plane, described Trump’s hand as like an ‘octopus’. That’s what it was like when he touched me.” I sobbed uncontrollably for hours. Feeling as if I were experiencing my mother’s assault, feeling as if generations of women were experiencing the same trauma over and over. Again and again our bodies were taken without asking.

Into this mess of sex, of power and pain, and of expensive institutions sweeping the messiness under the rug, came the revelation of the MatzoBall. It was a few weeks after the election of Trump and my exhaustion with rape culture and of the denial of patriarchy and power became overwhelming. As a member of IfNotNow, a movement to end American Jewish support for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, I have been accustomed to being disappointed in Jewish institutions.

The MatzoBall, however, put me over the edge.

The MatzoBall is a Jewish singles event, billed as a place for Jews to go on Christmas Eve, to pick up a (white, Jewish) spouse or, as one of their marketing memes puts it, “where Jewish men can hunt for a wife like a lion hunts for prey.” Another place, it seemed, where Jewish men could casually pick up something that had always belonged to them.


One of the MatzoBall memes.

So when a friend in IfNotNow suggested that we create an alternative MatzoBall party, committed to affirming the identities of interfaith couples, Jews of color, LGBQT+ Jews, and to building a space of consent and safety for women, I knew I had to get involved. “Gelty Pleasures: An Alternative Hannukah Dance Party” was born, and with it my hope that we can break the cycle of trauma.

Jews know trauma all too well. The obsession with reproductive continuity that fills the MatzoBall—the fixation on creating more Jews and more land for Jews and only Jews to inhabit—I believe comes from a collective Jewish trauma. However, it’s high time to create a party that honors our emergence from this cycle, a place where we can acknowledge those things that have made us feel unsafe, and create new spaces that repair the places in us that are broken. Healing those parts of us that are weathered by trauma, by generations of fear and loss of control will not happen overnight. Nevertheless, this year on Christmas Eve, I will be dancing at a place in which consent is a topic firmly up for discussion, in a way that parties my mother and her mother attended never were. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. I hope you will join us.

Jenn Pollan is a Brooklyn based activist and a 2013 graduate of Wesleyan University who spends her days fighting foreclosure in the Bronx. She is a proud member of IfNotNow, the movement to end American Jewish support for the occupation.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.