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Chabad at U.Va. celebrates annual menorah lighting

Students, faculty, and family gathered last night to light a menorah that will remain in front of the amphitheater

The menorah will remain at the top of the amphitheater until Dec. 14, staying up longer than it has in years past.
The menorah will remain at the top of the amphitheater until Dec. 14, staying up longer than it has in years past.

Chabad House at U.Va. made the University Amphitheater glow with the lighting of a large menorah Thursday night, marking the first of the eight nights of Hanukkah. The event, an annual tradition hosted by Jewish student group Rohr Chabad House, brought students and faculty together to partake in prayers, song and festivities. The menorah will remain at the top of the Amphitheater until Dec. 14, staying up longer than it has in years past.

The Rohr Chabad House is led by directors Channa and Rabbi Shlomo Mayer. The Mayers said that the purpose of the candle-lighting event is to uplift spirits and foster a sense of Jewish pride and community during Hanukkah, aligning with the program's mission of creating a welcoming space for Jewish students at the University. 

“We’ve been in a tough spot,” Channa Mayer said. “I hope this lifts everybody’s spirits … [the menorah] is a unifying symbol, not just a religious symbol.” 

Chabad House Co-director Rabbi Mayer said that the event was especially powerful given the recent global events surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict. He narrated the story of Hanukkah and said that the message still holds true — in difficult times, where there is darkness, spread light. 

It is the first time that Chabad will have the menorah remain in front of the Amphitheater for the entirety of the holiday, and this change was not made without challenges. Channa Mayer said that the menorah, symbolizing light in times of darkness, required coordination with University administrators to secure permission for its presence over the eight-day celebration. 

“That took a lot of arranging with the faculty and they were really accommodating,” Channa Mayer said. “[It required] probably 50 to 60 emails with our student president and Facilities Management.” 

The event serves as a meaningful connection for Jewish students during Hanukkah, creating a sense of community before everyone departs for the holiday. The Chabad organization says that it is a “home away from home: for the Jewish community at the University, a sentiment echoed by students. Second-year College student Xander Tilock said that he loved Chabad’s ability to foster unity during the holiday. 

“It’s the kind of thing that [Jewish students] would normally do at home with family,” Tilock said. “When it’s during the school year, it serves as a good substitute.” 

University President Jim Ryan echoed this sentiment through his words at the event, citing recent incidents of terrorism and antisemitism. In response, he said attendees should unite and embody courage to overcome darkness. 

"To celebrate Hanukkah is to believe that light is more powerful than darkness,” Ryan said. “We have to bring light, we have to be that light. The way that we can be the light is through courage.” 

After his speech, Ryan lit the menorah, which was followed by prayers and songs among community members. Community members conversed for the remainder of the event, with Ryan and Board of Visitors members present. 

Elizabeth Marvin, a graduate Arts and Sciences student in the religious studies program, spoke highly of Hanukkah celebrations on grounds.

“In my mind, it's about having hope longer than you think you can,” Marvin said. 

The Chabad House will host additional Torah readings and Shabbat dinners throughout the week. Additional menorah candle-lighting events are scheduled in other areas of Charlottesville, including the Downtown Mall and in front of the Chabad House. 

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