This article first appeared in the Jan. 4, 2002 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

With balloons, deejays, dance floors and a twinge of awkwardness in the air, the Christmas Eve event for Jewish young adults resembled a bar mitzvah party – except that everybody was 10-20 years older and they were drinking legally.

The fourth annual Mazelpalooza, sponsored by the Young Leadership Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, was held Dec. 24 at Monterra at West World.

The dress code was similar to that of a Scottsdale nightclub – the predominant color was black – but the atmosphere was different. I felt some sense of camaraderie; maybe it was because everybody in the adjoining rooms and patio areas was Jewish.

Although I recognized several people, there were many unfamiliar faces. Where are these people the rest of the year? There is often a good crowd at YLD happy hours, held most often at Scottsdale nightclubs, but YLD estimates the turnout at Monterra to have been nearly 600.

I was going to investigate further where these people are the rest of the year and intended to interview a few I’d never seen before, but frankly, after a couple drinks, I forgot.

The different conversations – standing near the dance floor, in the bathroom, at a table on the patio – sort of run together, but there was a mishmash of mini-reunions. Met him on a hike, painted a wall with her. I even ran into a fellow Camp Pearlstein C.I.T. from 15 years ago – now married and a doctor. (Where does the time go?)

One friend, who compared the evening to a typical bar scene, said it wasn’t conducive to meeting new people. There was a woman that he wanted to meet, but she was always engaged in conversation with people he didn’t know. She was never alone, and he didn’t want to intrude into her ongoing conversations.

It seems that the necessity of networking had moved beyond the business world and into the dating world. It’s not only important who you know, but who the people you know know. At events like happy hours or other bar sceneesque atmospheres, it’s often very difficult to meet new people on your own.

Why does Mazelpalooza draw such a big crowd? Maybe it’s a curiosity stemming from a year of parental prodding to meet a nice Jewish boy or girl. An opportunity to see all of the JDate profiles in person. Or maybe because there’s not much else to do on Christmas Eve.

For most of us, things have changed since bar and bat mitzvah days. Life is much more complicated now. For instance, one friend ran into her ex-fiancé; another spent the evening avoiding ex-girlfriends.

One guy I know avoided the event altogether because he was worried every ex he had would be there – haunting him like the ghosts of Christmas past.

Although thousands of years of collective dating experience filled the room, it was still reminiscent of high school dances – the earnest yet rejected dance requests, the eyeing across the room, the whispers and stares.

As I left, I saw a 31-year-old guy suck helium out of a balloon.

Some things never change.