Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday which began on the evening of December 6th and goes through the evening of December 14th this year. Hanukkah usually coincides with the busy time of the end of the fall semester, making it difficult for students to celebrate with their families.
If they can’t go home, there are a lot of different ways that students can celebrate Hanukkah on campus with their MSU families instead. MSU Hillel is one of the ways to get involved with the Jewish community on campus. Located just off of campus at 360 Charles Street, Hillel calls itself “the place to be for more than 3,500 Jewish students at MSU” and welcomes students to partake in events or just come to study or hang out.
Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting the menorah, each night a new candle is lit in addition to those that were lit the night before. Hanukkah commemorates two different miracles: the victory of the ancient Israelites, and the return of the menorah in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There was only one vial of oil, with only enough oil to keep the candles lit for one day, but the miracle is that the vial lasted for eight days instead.
Besides the candle lighting, Hanukkah is celebrated with games, such as playing dreidel, sometimes exchanging gifts after the menorah lighting or singing songs, and eating Hanukkah foods. Due to the miracle of the oil lasting eight days, foods typically eaten are fried in oil, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts filled with either custard or jelly.
Rabbi Dana Benson, the Senior Jewish Educator of MSU Hillel, spoke to us of the many different ways students celebrate Hanukkah on campus. “We hold candle lighting every night through Friday December 11th. We also have Friday night Shabbat dinner as well.” Shabbat services start at 6pm with dinner following at 7pm. MSU Hillel also holds other events at this time every year such as making blankets for Haven House or holding Hanukkah Palooza where they make latkes and menorahs.
Students also celebrate Hanukkah on campus by holding their own candle lightings every night in their dorms or apartments, and using the ritual to share their beliefs with others. “There are students that ask for menorahs so that they can teach their friends about the holiday they grew up with and use it as a way to continue the traditions and teachings with their MSU families here on campus” says Benson.
Others choose to utilize technology and FaceTime or Skype with their families each night, whether their families are in Israel, like some of the Israeli staff members at MSU Hillel, or only an hour away. MSU Junior Emily Elconin has class and finals to study for but takes time each night to celebrate with her family. “When I can’t be home for the holidays with my family, we like to FaceTime and light the candles together. It’s fun.”
Benson also notes that “there will be lightings Saturday and Sunday at the students’ discretion” at MSU Hillel.