The Arty Semite

It's Hanukkah Time! Where's the Party?

By Joshua Eli Plaut

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Last week, Joshua Eli Plaut wrote about Festivus and Jewish Santas. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


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 5:00 p.m. 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 8:00 p.m.

(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 12. 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 15 at 9:00 p.m. 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 15 at 8:30 p.m. at Towne Crier Cafe in Pawling, New York. NOTE: This should not be mistaken for the Jewmongous show at City Winery on December 25 (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 15 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 8 to December 29 at 8:00 p.m., 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 10 at 6:30 p.m. 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 11 at 8:15 p.m. at the 92nd Street Y.

The Big Quiz Thing’s Christmahanukwanzayear Spectacular

Noah Tarnow is host at this holiday-themed multimedia quiz show at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 11 and Wednesday, December 12, 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.


The Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit organization devoted to the reading, writing and publishing of Jewish literature. For more Jewish literary blog posts, reviews of Jewish books and book club resources, and to learn about awards and conferences, please visit www.jewishbookcouncil.org.

MyJewishLearning.com is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. Visit My Jewish Learning for thousands of articles on Judaism, Jewish holidays, Jewish history and more.


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