Santa vs. Latkes: Fighting for a Deeper Judaism On Chanukah

Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Mahattan Jewish Experience

By Rabbi Mark Wildes



Rabbi Mark Wildes of Manhattan Jewish Experience on Hanukkah, Chanukah


Since Chanukah is such a joyous time I hate to get negative. However, as a student of Jewish history and a rabbi involved in outreach, I feel compelled to respond to some of the disturbing opinions Michael Lukas wrote in his New York Times opinion piece, The Hypocrisy of Hanukkah.

The first is the depiction of the Maccabees who fought against the Greeks as “violent fundamentalists” and “religious zealots who lived in the hills of Judea and practiced an ancient form of guerrilla warfare.” Lukas must be unaware that the Greek Seleucid Empire, governing over ancient Judea, banned Jews from practicing their religion under the penalty of death. They forced Jews to offer pigs unto the Greek gods and converted the Jewish Temple into a house of idol worship and prostitution. What actions would he have had the Jewish community take? Back then, there were only two choices: Give up your Judaism or suffer martyrdom. The Maccabees defied all odds and created a third option: they rebelled and ultimately expelled the far superior Greek military force from ancient Israel. Defending your own faith from destruction does not make you a violent fundamentalist or a religious zealot. Our ancestors did the right thing in not allowing Judaism to be replaced by paganism. Had they acted differently Greek Hellenism and its pagan foundations would have replaced Judaism and the very cosmopolitan liberties and values Lukas holds so dear.

The second point is more contemporary and goes to the very heart of raising Jewish children in America today. Lukas writes how he needs to compete with Santa, “sparkly trees, ornaments and fruitcake” with Judaism’s “latkes, jelly doughnuts and eight nights of presents.” If Lucas could share something deeper about Judaism with his daughter he wouldn’t have to do so much selling and competing with Christmas. Judaism at its core offers timeless values and a heightened sense of living through its traditions, holidays and teachings. Take the Sabbath: When a child feels that because of the restrictions the Sabbath places on technology use, they now have their parents total focus and attention (at least once a week), Judaism becomes valuable in their eyes. When they encounter the pains of growing up, whether it be a struggle to fit in or spouts of bullying, they can rest assured that once each week they will have a Sabbath meal and real down time with their family and loved ones and not get sucked into the cyber world of Instagram, Facebook and the latest iteration of Candy Crush.

In my book “Beyond the Instant,” I outline other Jewish practices with endless benefits to both parents and their children, such as:

  • Praying offers time for meditation, mindfulness and awareness that yoga and other modern activities have tried to replicate.
  • The focus Judaism places on giving through acts of loving kindness and charity have been proven to lead to great happiness.
  • Reciting blessings before and after we eat develops an attitude of gratitude.
  • The Jewish High Holidays raise children with the idea that it’s never too late to change the direction of your life and improve ones character.

We will never have to compete with Santa or a Christmas tree if we raise our children to yearn for something deeper, real, and relevant. If we instill Jewish values in our children, values grounded in happiness, giving, mindfulness, and depth, we just might look into our arsenal and find a lot more than latkes and jelly doughnuts.


Ignite The Night: MJE Chanukah Party Dec 23rd


Welcome to MJE’s Annual Chanukah PARTY



*Live Music*

*Latkes & Vodkas*

*Dreidel Tournament*

*Decorate Your Own Donuts*

*HUGE MENORAH Candle Lighting*

*Spontaneous Zmirot Kumzits*

Celebrate Chanukah with class and style! Meet up with old friends, hang out with new friends and eat a ton of latkes at this year’s MJE Chanukah Chagiga Party! 

Monday, December 23rd 
7:00 PM
131 West 86th St (10th Floor)
Tickets: Online $10 Door $15

Dreidels & Ladles: Friday Night Dinner + Open Bar MJE East 20s 30s | Dec 20th

MJE East Presents

Dreidels & Ladles

A Friday Night Dinner + Open Bar for 20s 30s

*Special Ladled Chanuka Punch Cocktails*

Early Bird Tickets $36 (Until Tuesday 12/10, Limited Early Bird Tickets Available)
*For ages 21-39*

Register Here:

Join over 100 YJPs for this special Friday night dinner “Light The Match” with Rabbi Avi Heller and ignite your inner Chanuka flame with the MJE East crew! Special Ladled Punch Cocktail for Chanuka!

Professionally Catered Dinner by Foremost! 

For 20s & 30s only, no exceptions. MUST PRE-REGISTER

MJE East in partnership with KJB welcomes young Jewish professionals in their 20s and 30s for an elegant catered dinner by FOREMOST, open bar and dessert.

The Schedule:

  • Candle Lighting 4:12 pm
  • Services 7:00pm
  • Dinner 8:00 pm
  • Speaker 9:00 pm


Thank you Congregation Kehilath Jeshrun for hosting MJE East events and Shabbat experiences! KJ is a dynamic Jewish Community Center serving the Upper East Side and beyond.

This event is generously supported in honor of George Rohr and the KJ Beginners Program.


MJE is a not for profit outreach organization serving a community of young Jewish professionals in their 20’s and 30’s.


*MJE reserves the right to refund any purchases made prior to applying!

SHABBAT DINNER Catered by Foremost

Questions? Email

Hanukkah (Hoppy) Happy Hour Dec 19th


Welcome to MJE’s pre-Hanukkah *Hoppy* Happy Hour 

Celebrate Hanukkah with MJE & 100+ YJPs! Kick Off the Hanukkah season and enjoy hoppy brews with your fellow Jews.

Thursday, December 19th
5:00 – 8:00 PM
Secret Location NYC
Tickets: Online $10 Door $20

For YJPs 20s & 30s

Hanukkah Workshop with Rabbi Mark Wildes