Readers Should Take a Walk on the Wildes Side
When your father is one of the best immigration attorneys on the planet — and saves John Lennon from getting deported — there is pressure to follow in his footsteps. Though already a lawyer, Rabbi Mark Wildes imagined a place where he could help less-affiliated young Jewish professionals connect to their religion. So he founded Manhattan Jewish Experience, which 20 years later is known as a staple of Manhattan’s Upper West Side and a place where millennials have found spirituality, support, spouses, and a space to learn and pray.
In his stellar new book, Beyond The Instant: Jewish Wisdom for Lasting Happiness in a Fast-Paced Social Media World, Wildes tackles a plethora of topics, including love, dating, and happiness.
From Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson to Seinfeld, from Maimonides to The Matrix, Wildes shows an impressive ability to seamlessly fuse Torah teachings with pop culture in a manner that makes for an accessible, entertaining, and insightful read.
For example, he relates the story of a man who writes a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, citing all of his problems and starting many sentences with the word “I.” Schneerson gives no written response, but simply circles the letter “I” throughout and mails it back.
Wildes also gives an example of a joke from Jerry Seinfeld, who notes that life is like a highway where women see a sign for food, lodging, and gas and want to get off at the exit while the man wants to keep going to the next stop.
The rabbi endears himself to the reader by showing vulnerability rather than pontificating. He writes that he passed the bar exam on the third try, and also takes guilty pleasure in buying ties after unsuccessful fundraising meetings. Wildes is more practical than preachy, explaining why people shouldn’t stress if they don’t get enough likes on Facebook, while admitting that he likes to be liked in real life.
There is a palpable authenticity in the pages, as well as some wild anecdotes. One involves a luncheon in London where the guest speaker is Prince Charles. A man eats a kosher meal covered in plastic, while another Jewish man mocks him and says that he should eat the same thing as everyone else. Prince Charles strikes up a conversation with the kosher eater and says that he once learned about dietary laws. The other man, in an effort to get attention, says he is also Jewish.
“So where is your kosher meal?” Prince Charles is quoted as saying.
As to how millennials can become unglued from their cell phones, Wildes is realistic and knows that habits are hard to break. But he sets a framework of humility and a context where people should be inclined to help others. The most beautiful line of this book is when he praises Lester, a maintenance man at his workplace. I doubt you’ll find that anywhere else.
Wildes could stand to include more dating stories, but he may be saving them for his next book. He does include a few where the lesson is that people need to take control of their lives and not be at the mercy of someone they are dating, whether in a case where a man is reluctant to propose or a woman only wants to marry an accountant.
Beyond The Instant is one of the most relevant books I’ve ever read written by a rabbi. If your foot’s been riding the breaks in life, this will make you slam on the gas pedal. With the target being Jewish millennials, Wildes hits the bullseye. But this work can extend to a larger audience to include anyone looking to grow and improve themselves. While some books by clergy can go over your head, this one will get stuck in it.
Wildes notes that on the gravestone of his grandfather, the engraving is a quote from the Ethics of the Fathers: “Who is wealthy? He who is satisfied with his lot.”
These pages are proof that even though he chose the synagogue over the court, Wildes is pretty wealthy.