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Students share in Hanukkah celebration across campus

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Back to Article

Students share in Hanukkah celebration across campus

Toni Pantone

Toni Pantone

Toni Pantone

By Tristan Jacobs, Staff Writer

Hanukkah comes once a year, spanning eight days that are packed with events as students celebrate their faith on campus.

In a search for information on Hanukkah traditions, the first thing to understand is what Hanukkah is.

Of course, the most celebrated tradition of the holiday would be the menorah candle lighting, which takes place each night of Hanukkah. Many may believe the holiday is similar to Christmas, but this is not true.

Hanukkah celebrates the survival of a Jewish community after an uphill battle with the Assyrian army more than 2,000 years ago.

In the end, the small Jewish battalion was victorious, and in the wake of all the destruction caused by the war, a menorah was left standing with what seemed like enough oil to burn for one night.

The miracle of Hanukkah stems from the idea that instead of burning for only one night, the oil burned for eight. The tradition of lighting the menorah every night for eight nights stems from that miracle.

For two years, Rabbi Ari Naveh has served as the rabbi and senior Jewish educator for Illini Hillel on campus. He explained the modern significance of the candle lighting that takes place each night of Hanukkah.

“The tradition goes you’re supposed to add light to the world, not decrease it,” Naveh said. “So every night, you’re reminded that there’s light and good in the world.”

This sends a clear message of strength, according to Naveh.

“It’s beautiful to have that light every single night, one more than the next, and show yourself and the community that we’re here and we’re proud of being here,” Naveh said.

Amy Wolff is an academic adviser for the College of Media’s Student Services Center. With a family at home, she has become less involved with the holiday on campus than she has been in the past but recalls the importance of holidays like Hanukkah for the Jewish community.

At a time in the semester when classes are coming to an end and projects, papers and tests all seem to fall on the same day, faith serves to provide relief.

“It’s important to remember that you have this culture and religion that is a home,” Wolff said. “That was important to me as an undergraduate and a graduate student.”

Wolff said Hanukkah serves as a reminder that “no matter what you’re doing on campus or wherever you are in the world, someone who’s Jewish culturally or religiously is practicing in a way similar to you.”

This familiarity is what gives her and others comfort during stressful times and creates significance in even minor holidays like Hanukkah.

Organizations spanning from Hillel to Greek life will celebrate their faith through tradition. For example, Alpha Epsilon Pi celebrates with its own lighting of the menorah.

Devon Pye is a freshman in the fraternity and serves as the Israel advocacy chair. He described their celebration of Hanukkah with the rabbi coming to the house and lighting candles with the brothers of AEP while also leading them in prayer.

However, the participation for the candle lighting is inclusive of other faiths as well, said Pye.

“I wouldn’t say that everyone in the house is Jewish, but everyone is welcome to go and many do,” Pye said.

Additionally, the Hillel chapter on campus will host events throughout the week to celebrate their faith. Irene Zharnitsky is a senior in LAS and current president of Illini Hillel.

Zharnitsky described the traditions followed by Hillel during the eight days of Hanukkah.

“Every day of Hanukkah we have candle lighting, which we can do around campus at different dorms or, for example, last year we did candle lighting at Espresso Royale,” Zharnitsky said.

Fall semester can be tough for students on campus following their Jewish faith closely. Zharnitsky said Hanukkah is at a different time every year, unlike holidays like Christmas that remain on the same date.

“We don’t have school during Christmas ever versus how we have school on all of the main Jewish holidays, and everyone who is very observant has to miss class if it coincides with a day of classes,” Zharnitsky said.

This is where Zharnitsky said having a place to celebrate their faith becomes important.

“It’s nice that people have the opportunity to come here and celebrate Hanukkah in whichever way they want to,” Zharnitsky said.

Sarah Stockdale is a sophomore in FAA and is currently running for president of Hillel next year.

“Hillel is really good at doing a variety of programming when it comes to religious programming for people who really want to be involved with their faith and continue that through college,” Stockdale said.

Stockdale said Hillel hosts a variety of programs for Hanukkah, most of which have food involved.

Types of foods shared on Hanukkah range from latkes, sufganiyot, which is a jelly doughnut, and generally foods that are cooked in oil to pay homage to the miracle that took place thousands of years ago.

Stockdale noted that this year, Hillel will be hosting a Moroccan food event where one of the students at the University and his father will prepare and share the food they use to celebrate Hanukkah in Moroccan culture.

Aside from food, there are other ways to celebrate Hanukkah. In the past, Hillel has hosted a dreidel tournament where members of the community can bring their own dreidel and participate.

This year, there was a menorah workshop taking place at Hillel the first day of Hanukkah on Sunday, as well as a “sufganiyot war” on Wednesday.

More information of when events are to be hosted by Hillel is available on its website under the events calendar. All students are welcome to participate.

“Hanukkah is a celebration of pride. It’s us being proud of who we are as a Jewish community,” Naveh said. “We’re still standing and we’re standing proudly.”

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