Last week, Joshua Eli Plaut wrote about Fes­tivus and Jew­ish San­tas. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Every Decem­ber, I am over­whelmed by the mag­ni­tude of Jew­ish cel­e­bra­tions tak­ing place across the Unit­ed States. This is a con­tin­u­ing tes­ti­mo­ny to what I doc­u­ment and espouse in my recent­ly pub­lished book A Kosher Christ­mas: Tis the Sea­son to Be Jew­ish. We Jews can rejoice in Jew­ish ways beyond the Hanukkah fes­ti­val and embrace the good­will gen­er­at­ed by Christ­mas to find Jew­ish mean­ing in the Decem­ber hol­i­day season.

Sat­ur­day night marked the first night of Hanukkah. Meno­rah light­ings will abound in homes and in pub­lic places. I presided over the meno­rah light­ing at East 35th and Park Avenue in New York City at 5:00PM. We were crammed onto the medi­an with cars whizzing by! Excit­ing but a bit on the dan­ger­ous side. I had nev­er offi­ci­at­ed at the light­ing of a meno­rah in a pub­lic space!

Just over­head was the ethe­re­al spire of the Empire State Build­ing glow­ing­ly lit in blue and white and wrapped in mist! As with every­thing of import, there is a sto­ry sur­round­ing the Hanukkah light­ing of the Empire State Build­ing. In 1997, nine-year-old Mal­lo­ry Blair Gre­itzer wrote a let­ter to the man­age­ment of the Empire State Build­ing in Man­hat­tan request­ing that the col­or of the building’s tow­er lights be changed in hon­or of Hanukkah. This request was stead­fast­ly reject­ed on the basis that the management’s pol­i­cy lim­it­ed the lights to hon­or each reli­gion on one day per year. (The landmark’s lights are blue and white for Israel Inde­pen­dence Day.) Upon receiv­ing this answer, Mal­lo­ry asked her par­ents if she was Israeli. They explained that she was not, which prompt­ed Mal­lo­ry to write a sec­ond let­ter to Leona Helm­s­ley, the man­age­ment company’s own­er. Mal­lo­ry explained that she was not Israeli and there­fore won­dered what this pol­i­cy meant for her and the oth­er Jews in the coun­try who were not Israeli. Against the advice of her staff, Helm­s­ley grant­ed Mallory’s request. In cel­e­bra­tion of Hanukkah in 1997, the Empire State Build­ing was (and each year there­after) set alight with the col­ors blue and white. Grass roots cam­paign­ing at its best!

In homes and apart­ments every­where, the waft­ing smell of latkes cook­ing in oil will flood kitchens and hall­ways and suf­ganiy­ot will be plen­ti­ful. If you are look­ing for new and excit­ing events for Hanukkah, check out the fol­low­ing in the New York City area:

Major League Dreidel/​Target Tops Tour­na­ment on Decem­ber 13th at 8:00PM
(This one I have writ­ten about in
my book)
Cre­at­ed in 2007, Major League Drei­del has been described as an amped-up Hanukkah par­ty and bat­tle royale.” Play­ers com­pete for the longest drei­del spin. This year hosts the first dou­bles tour­na­ment. Reg­is­ter at info@​majorleaguedreidel.​com by Wednes­day, Decem­ber 12th. Pro­ceeds of the event will ben­e­fit Play­works, a non­prof­it whose mis­sion is to end play­ground bul­ly­ing. Even if you don’t reg­is­ter, take a look at the web­site and then head to Full Cir­cle Bar in Williams­burg, Brook­lyn to watch the tournament.


Matisyahu Fes­ti­val of Light
Matisyahu, for­mer­ly Hasidic but always remain­ing a reg­gae star, per­forms his annu­al Hanukkah con­cert on Decem­ber 15th at 9:00PM at Ter­mi­nal 5. Find more Fes­ti­val of Light con­cert dates around the coun­try here.

We also want to give a shout out to Jew­mon­gous is Sean Alt­man!
Fab­u­lous­ly fun­ny, Jew­mon­gous is an irrev­er­ent­ly comedic con­cert tak­ing place on Decem­ber 15th at 8:30PM at Towne Crier Café in Pawl­ing, New York. NOTE: This should not be mis­tak­en for the Jew­mon­gous show at City Win­ery on Decem­ber 25th (more to fol­low on that one). 

Don’t dis­miss San­ta­con!
There are always a few Hanukkah Harry(s) and Mrs. Hanukkah Harry(s) amongst the thou­sands of San­tas that throng and cavort around New York City. Accord­ing to the web­site, the New York hap­pen­ing is on Decem­ber 15th with infor­ma­tion to be revealed the night before.

A Chanukah Charol
Come­di­an Jack­ie Hoff­man reen­acts her one-woman retelling of Dickens’s A Christ­mas Car­ol using a semi-auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal and very Jew­ish lens. Decem­ber 8th-Decem­ber 29th at 8:00PM, New World Stages.

Fourth Annu­al Latke Fes­ti­val
Chefs from 16 local restau­rants — includ­ing A Voce, Bal­a­boos­ta and Vesel­ka—com­pete for first place latke on Mon­day Decem­ber 10th at 6:30PM at BAM Peter Jay Sharp Build­ing. Taste and judge for your­self! Prof­its from tick­et sales will be donat­ed to the Sylvia Cen­ter for child­hood nutrition.

Gail Sim­mons: Latke Siz­zle
Chef Gail Sim­mons talks with James Beard Foun­da­tion exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Mitchell Davis about latkes and oth­er types of Jew­ish food to be fol­lowed by a latke tast­ing and vod­ka pair­ing. Decem­ber 11th at 8:15PM at the 92nd Street Y.

The Big Quiz Thing’s Christma­hanuk­wan­za­year Spec­tac­u­lar
Noah Tarnow is host at this hol­i­day-themed mul­ti­me­dia quiz show at 7:00PM on Tues­day, Decem­ber 11th and Wednes­day, Decem­ber 12th, at Lit­tle­field in Brooklyn.

Joshua Eli Plaut, PhD, is the full-time Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Amer­i­can Friends of Rabin Med­ical, as well as the Rab­bi of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Syn­a­gogue in Man­hat­tan. His most recent book, A Kosher Christ­mas: Tis the Sea­son to Be Jew­ish, is now available.

Joshua Eli Plaut, PhD, is Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Amer­i­can Friends of Rabin Med­ical and the Rab­bi of Met­ro­pol­i­tan Syn­a­gogue in Man­hat­tan. He is an his­to­ri­an, pho­to-ethno­g­ra­ph­er, and cul­tur­al anthro­pol­o­gist, and is also the author of A Kosher Christ­mas: Tis the Sea­son to Be Jew­ish(Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty Press)andGreek Jew­ry in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry, 1913 – 1983: Pat­terns of Jew­ish Com­mu­nal Sur­vival in the Greek Provinces before and after the Holo­caust (Fair­leigh Dick­in­son Uni­ver­si­ty Press).

Woody Guthrie’s Hanukkah Songs

So You Want to Dress Up As San­ta?!