NYT Criticized for Running “Saying Goodbye to Hanukkah” Op-Ed

The New York Times was criticized on Twitter for running an op-ed on December 4 titled “Saying Goodbye to Hanukkah.”

The author of the piece, Sarah Prager, wrote that Hanukkah was the only Jewish holiday she celebrated with her family growing up, as they mostly celebrated secular holidays otherwise. Prager wrote that her family’s Hanukkah celebrations always seemed “forced” and once she and her sister went to college, her family stopped celebrating Hanukkah altogether. When Prager married her wife (who was raised Catholic but doesn’t really identify with any religion), they decided to raise their children with only secular holidays.

“Discontinuing my family’s Hanukkah celebration fits right in with our family’s tradition of bucking tradition,” Prager wrote. “Most families do this in some way, even if just adjusting the Tooth Fairy’s gift for inflation. As a queer person, I know my kids will grow up alongside other children whose families created their own way of doing things because the old way hurt or didn’t fit.” She concluded her op-ed by stating “that forcing a tradition just because it was a part of my childhood is not what my kids need. They need love and connection — no menorah required.”

Various Jewish Twitter users denounced the op-ed. American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris tweeted that the Prager op-ed was “bizarre” and noted that in 2018 the Times ran an op-ed called “The Hypocrisy of Hanukkah.”

“Is this the paper’s skepticism about all faiths & their holidays?” Harris asked. “Or is it solely reserved for Jewish holidays?”

The Stop Antisemitism.org watchdog also tweeted, “With #antisemitism skyrocketing this year, why is the New York Times giving column space to Sarah Prager, a woman who identifies as Christian, to trash Hanukkah?!”

[/speakr-mute]Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah, an organization seeking to advance human rights, tweeted that she hasn’t been able to find any Times op-eds celebrating Hanukkah, only op-eds deriding the holiday.

“Can NYT not find anyone with actual Jewish knowledge to write a thoughtful piece?” Jacobs wrote. She added in a subsequent tweet: “Can you imagine if almost every Christmas op-ed for 10 yrs called the holiday is silly and complained that Santa doesn’t exist?”

Batya Ungar-Sargon, deputy opinion editor for The Forward, tweeted, “Truly impossible to imagine @nytopinion allowing a random white person to appropriate the religion of any other minority – and purely for the purpose of discarding it. Gross – and revealing – on so many levels.”

Andrew Silow-Carroll, the editor-in-chief of The New York Jewish Week, wrote in a December 7 op-ed for the Jewish Week that he didn’t understand the significance of Prager’s piece. “Prager’s article reads like the confession of a life-long vegetarian who once ate meat as a child, and doesn’t really miss it,” he wrote.

Silow-Carroll added that the Prager op-ed, as well as the Times’ past op-eds on Hanukkah, have been “lost opportunities to reflect on Chanukah and Jewish tradition in ways that are neither sermonic and pious, nor secular and snarky. There are plenty of Jewish voices who can frame Chanukah within the context of modernity, critiquing its uncomfortable aspects while preserving the ways it has been reimagined according to a modern, even liberal, Jewish understanding of religious freedom and the dilemmas of assimilation.”

Prager defended her piece in a December 7 Twitter thread, explaining that it was “a personal essay” published in the Times’ Parenting section.

“If I had known it would cause pain for some I may have reconsidered,” Prager tweeted. “I did not say there was anything bad about Hanukkah or Judaism, simply that they aren’t ultimately a fit for my non-religious family even though I celebrated as a child.”

She added in a later tweet: “Everyone should choose religious traditions that are right for them and I respect those choices. I genuinely wish a very happy Hanukkah to all those who celebrate.”

Joshua Leifer, assistant editor at Jewish Currents, defended Prager in a tweet. “If a personal essay about losing connection to ritual is scandalous to you, then you are extremely out of touch with the conversations many young American Jews are having about the place of ritual and religion in their lives,” he wrote.

The Times did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.

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