There is a chasidic story about two boys from the North Shore of Chicago that went to study at the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana. Have you heard this one before? One joined AEPi, the other ZBT. Yeah, you’ve heard this one before…But we promise this is a story for the ages!
This is the story of the birth of…the Matzo Bash in Chicago.
Chapter I – Origins
After a few years of partying but mostly party planning, the two college grads felt nostalgic for their fraternity days. The days when your entire friend group lived in the same area and large get togethers are every weekend. Why does college have to end, they asked themselves?
Freddie Kole, a finance major, never thought he would turn his side hustle party planning for cash into a much bigger full-time job. Event planning meant side cash, which is every college students’ dream.
At the same time in small Champaign-Urbana, another finance major, Alon Schwartz, organized hip-hop freestyle battles with his friends as a side hustle. The event brought out local talent and after college, Alon and his partners brought the event to Chicago.
Chapter II – Chicago
Out of college and event planning in the city, both Kole and Schwartz wanted to help young Jews find a place to party on Christmas.
In 2006, Alon and his team were the first to get into the matzo bash game. They saw that the matzo ball was big in other cities, but it was still “not a thing” in Chicago.
Chapter III – The First Matzo Bash
Two years later, and the party was growing exponentially. Schwartz’s focus was to get all the right partners and support from the larger Jewish community. This took years to build. And as the years went on, the party just got bigger and bigger.
After outgrowing the original venue (Martini Park, which is now closed) they had to find a new space to contain the overflowing Jews looking for a Christmas getaway.
Chapter IV – A Tale of Two Parties
At the same time as the birth of the Matzo Bash in 2003, Kole and his team had created an annual Christmas event through his company, called Chicago Twenty Something.
You may have known it as “Stoutmas Eve” or “Christmas Eve Party” or “Rock Mitzvah”. The brand was not strong. But each year, Jews came out to enjoy Christmas Eve together as a community. Schwartz and the Matzo Bash moved venues and continued to expand. Beginning in 2004, Kole really began to grow Chicago Twenty Something and their Christmas Eve event.
Chapter V – Maccabees Join Forces
Each Christmas, Jews looking for some Christmas spirit had to choose which party they went to. The community was divided. Something had to change. After many years of competing Christmas Eve parties, in 2012 Kole and Schwartz decided to combine forces and take the Matzo Bash to the next level. Schwartz reminisces:
We figured it would be better if we did it together
According to Kole, the goal is to “Bring a bunch of Jewish people together. It’s a great night to catch up with old friends, make new friends and maybe meet that special someone. It is also a way to help some great Jewish organizations by giving them exposure & some financial support.” Both Kole and Schwartz love the Annual JUF Big Event and want to give back more to their community. The Matzo Bash donates a portion of the ticket sales back to the JUF & the some of the other co-sponsors.
Even though this has always been a hobby for Schwartz, after he moved to Los Angeles to run West coast marketing for WeWork, he passed the project on to his younger brother Oren who is based in Chicago.
What started as a side hustle for Kole has become a full-time enterprise and 14 years later he is still planning parties. Like every large Jewish party, the Landon Twins are involved. Kole and Schwartz refer to the twins as staples of Chicago nightlife and excited to work together.
PS – Matzo Bash Miracles Behind the Scenes
During the Matzo Bash of 2016, Kole’s wife went into labor and he was not able to make the party. In the beginning of the day, though experiencing the beginning pains of labor, Kole’s wife gave him the green light to go to the bash. She planned to go to her parents and wait for the contractions calm down. They did not stop. On the way to the hospital (after picking up Portillo’s of course), Kole called Schwartz to let the team know he would not be able to make the Matzo Bash this year. By 6pm, Kole was being screamed at by his wife as he kept checking Matzo Bash numbers on his phone. Their son was born at 6am on Christmas Day. He was not named “Matzo Bash” or “Jesus” despite popular opinion.
See for yourself!
Freddie Kole, Chicago Twenty Something
Alon Schwartz, Afterlight Events