Matzoh balls are emblematic of Jewish culture, so it’s no surprise that the much loved staple of Jewish cuisine has become a mascot for a local Jewish organization.
The Matzohball mascot originated at Temple Isaiah in Fulton in 2004 as the brainchild of congregants Brian and Lisa Jolles to help with marketing the temple’s annual Matzohball 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run. This year, the event —and its popular mascot —celebrates a happy bar mitzvah.
“When the character first came out, it was always understood that it would be something that would generate enough fundraising to stand out as a real mensch in the community,” said Brian Jolles, a member of the men’s club at Temple Isaiah, which helps to organize the event each year.
Initially, the event started small. In 2004, Jolles said, it generated between $5,000 and $7,000. But in the last three years, the event has raised upward of $25,000 —more than enough to donate to other community organizations, including Howard County’s Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center; DreamBuilders, an interfaith homebuilding consortium; and HopeWorks of Howard County, which provides support and advocacy for victims of domestic abuse.
The increase in funds generated by the event is due, in part, to growing attendance. According to Barry Dubin, who has chaired the event for the past 10 years, participation grew significantly after the event partnered with Charm City Run so that the race would be officially timed. Even with this change, which legitimized the race for some people, the event remains a low-pressure, family-friendly run, said Dubin. Trophies are given out for different age groups, and this year, participating runners will receive T-shirts depicting the Matzohball mascot being hoisted in a chair, symbolizing his bar mitzvah celebration.
“This is really a race that is about bringing our congregational community together,” said Rabbi Craig Axler of Temple Isaiah. “People help out in so many ways to make this event happen — it takes an enormous amount of volunteers. But it is also very decidedly not just for Temple Isaiah. People across the Jewish community and the Howard County community participate in the race. In more recent years, since we partnered with Charm City Run, a lot more people do this as a part of the list of 5Ks they might participate in through that organization as well.”
Axler worked with the Jolleses to organize a 13-year celebration. Earlier in May, Noah Hoffman, whose parents are very involved with the congregation and whose own bar mitzvah was the week prior, dressed up as the Matzohball mascot for a Torah Aliyah at Shabbat services.
“Lisa and Brian are so incredibly creative and have such a passion for this race and the community,” said Axler. “Brian wrote a thank-you speech and d’var Torah in the voice of a bar mitzvah student who also happened to be a matzoh ball. It was creative and funny but also a meaningful recap of the way that this race has grown and what it means to our community.”
For his part, Hoffman ran the 5K last year and will volunteer at the event this year.
“I had to pause a lot for people to laugh [during the mascot’s speech] because there are a lot of jokes about how I became the Matzohball today. The funniest part was I sat down in a chair and the costume puffed up and the inflatable fat suit part covered my face. I had to waddle in it too — a lot of the kids were laughing before I even gave my speech.”
Following the fun run, there will be the Howard County Family Wellness Day with a free wellness fair until 3 p.m. That event generally draws more than 3,000 people, Brian said. The 13th Annual Matzohball 5k & 1 Mile Fun Run will take place on Sunday, June 4 at 9 a.m. at Centennial Park.
“This all grew out of the Matzohball” he said. “The value that the Matzohball created has extended well beyond the race itself to becoming one of the largest wellness events in the county.”