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Hanukkah celebrations lighten up Grounds

Jewish students are finding creative ways to celebrate the Hebrew “Festival of Lights”

The Brody Jewish Center has organized a variety of opportunities for Jewish students and their friends to partake in Hanukkah festivities.
The Brody Jewish Center has organized a variety of opportunities for Jewish students and their friends to partake in Hanukkah festivities.

Jewish students on Grounds found a variety of ways to celebrate Hanukkah, which began Nov. 28 and lasted until Dec. 6. Largely led by the Brody Jewish Center, an organization dedicated to connecting and empowering Jewish students, the Hanukkah season has been enjoyed with a variety of events across Grounds with the goal of bringing together Jewish students and celebrating Jewish culture.

Hanukkah is a Jewish festival that begins on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev, the ninth month on the Hebrew calendar, and lasts for eight days and nights. The holiday is traditionally celebrated with the lighting of a menorah, in which each of the eight candles are lit as the holiday progresses until the last day of Hanukkah, in addition to other festivities like playing dreidel, singing Hanukkah songs and eating foods like latke, a type of potato pancake, and sufganiyot, a type of round jelly doughnut. The holiday is observed as a celebration of the Jewish recovery of Jerusalem from the grecian Seleucid empire. 

With around 1,000 Jewish students at the University, Hanukkah is a major holiday for the student population. The celebration of Hanukkah presents a unique opportunity for a variety of student organizations dedicated to empowering, connecting and incorporating Jewish students into the University to collaborate in festivities.

One major organization that has contributed to the Jewish holiday season is the Brody Jewish Center, which has organized a variety of opportunities for Jewish students and their friends to partake in Hanukkah festivities. 

Annie Weinberg, Springboard Initiative Fellow in the BJC and Class of 2019 Education alumna, helped student interns organize a variety of Hanukkah events for Jewish students and their friends.

“[The interns] wanted to offer a wide variety of programs and do an Eight Crazy Nights event, so every night of the week we've had a different intern leading a different event with a different Jewish twist with a different theme,” Weinberg said. “We started off on [Nov. 28] — our staff basically put on a community dinner with Hanukkah party favors and pizza and lighting the menorah. We saw upwards of around 50 students that night.”

The Eight Crazy Nights event then followed on Nov. 29 with candle making, cookie decorating and a football watch party where students wagered Hanukkah gelts — traditional Hebrew chocolate coins — on the outcome. The festivities continued on the next night with a Trader Joe’s appetizer sampler party hosted by the Jewish Women’s Group, a Hillel-sponsored initiative to bring together Jewish women to discuss and engage in the Jewish faith. In addition, other student leaders organized a Lighting of the Menorah on the Lawn, which President Jim Ryan made an appearance at. 

The Brody Jewish Center also held a Lawnukkah on Dec. 6 from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m., right before Lighting of the Lawn, an annual tradition at the University that includes holiday decorations along the Lawn, a major light show and musical performances. Lawnukkah was held in the tents outside Newcomb with menorah lighting, photo booths and latkes. The Jewish community welcomes all people of diverse cultural backgrounds to join them and celebrate Jewish traditions together. 

Amanda Meyers, fourth-year Commerce student and engagement intern at BJC, attended many of the Hanukkah celebrations across Grounds over the past week.

“It’s been really fun seeing all my friends at different nights throughout the week,” Meyers said. “It’s just been a great way to celebrate Hanukkah.” 

In addition to having fun with friends, Jewish students also found a way to combine Hanukkah rituals with modern elements. Traditionally, Jewish people find ways to give back to the community instead of giving gifts to each other. Similarly, at the University, students find that they are in a unique position to give back to the community, and while lighting candles remains one of the most essential Hanukkah activities, people also adapt to electric menorahs for safety considerations. 

“Students are finding their own space,” Weinberg said. “As the development associate at Brody Jewish Center, I am glad to see students practicing their self-governance skills and adding modern elements to our traditional rituals.”

The vast efforts of Jewish organizations on Grounds to celebrate Hanukkah and provide opportunities for Jewish students to connect with one another has been meaningful to some students, as being a minority group within a greater college community. 

“I think it’s nice for people to feel like their holidays are represented during this season that's normally just [a] Christmas focus,” Meyers said. “Having a lot of events where you feel like you can celebrate your stuff and have a place to do that and have support from administration — like having Jim Ryan at an event — is pretty cool.” 

Jewish students are also planning to join further events on Hanukkah.

“It has been a busy week for me, but I am heading to the Lawnukkah with some of my friends to spend time together, as I think this is the core part of the holiday for me,” first-year College student Ella Sher said. 

The events are intended to be enjoyed by all who want to take part in festivities and learn about Jewish traditions. For Meyers, incorporating others into celebrations is an integral aspect of Jewish culture.

“Part of Jewish tradition is inviting other people and being a good host. A lot of people don't understand what Hanukkah is — they just know that it exists,” Meyers said. “I think opening it up to as many people as possible so that they can also learn about the Jewish traditions during this time is a fun part of it as well.”

Organizers of the Hanukkah festivities are eager to share their traditions with all of the University, finding it exciting to share such a festive time with other members of the student community who might not have experienced Jewish traditions before.

“We all obviously know what Christmas celebrations look like, so it's fun for other people to experience the Jewish customs and traditions as well,” Meyers said.