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Rabbi Levi Raichik leads a group in prayer after lighting the first candles on the menorah standing outside of Baker University Center at Ohio University on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. This event is one of many this week celebrating Hanukkah put on by Chabad at Ohio University.

‘Public displays of Judaism are the message’: OU Chabad celebrates Hanukkah

The crowd cheers and applauds as the menorah is lit. Against the dark night sky, the lights shine brightly, illuminating the students gathered to celebrate in front of Baker University Center. This year, Hanukkah’s eight-night celebration spans from Nov. 28 to Dec. 6, and Chabad has events every night.

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, dating back to the second-century B.C.E. At the time, Israel was ruled by the Seleucids, a Greek empire based in Western Asia, who tried to force the Jewish population to accept Hellenistic beliefs and culture over their own. The holiday commemorates the revolt of a small army of Jews, called Maccabees, defeating the mighty Greek army and recapturing the temple in Jerusalem. The lighting of the menorah, which most non-Jews associate with the holiday, commemorates the events following the recapture of the temple, the miracle of a single day’s worth of oil lighting the temple’s menorah for eight long days.

Chabad, an organization dedicated to spreading Jewish awareness, has one of its over 3,000 centers around the world at 33 N. Court St. According to Chabad’s Ohio University chapter website, the campus organization “provides an environment where Jewish students can take ownership of their Jewish identity,” offering kosher Shabbat and holiday meals for students free of charge.

This week’s celebration has a different event each night, such as lighting the menorah, enjoying seasonal food and listening to Hanukkah music. Sunday, the first night, opened with a menorah lighting and latkes, which are fried potato pancakes. 

The second night of Hanukkah brought the biggest event of the week, the annual giant menorah lighting outside Baker Center, open to all students regardless of their faith. OU President Hugh Sherman and Gigi Secuban, the vice president of Diversity and Inclusion, each spoke at the event alongside Chabad Rabbi Levi Raichik, with Sherman helping to light the Shamash, or center candle. After the lighting, the event moved inside Baker Center for music, food and celebration. 


“The whole purpose of lighting the menorah is to publicize the story of Hanukkah, which is why many Jewish people have the custom to light their menorahs outside or by a window so everyone could see. The more people that see and participate in lighting the menorah, the more you have tapped into the purpose of the menorah in the first place.”


Sherman said he was grateful to speak at the event and reinforce OU’s commitment to diversity.

“I think it's important that the university confirms its tolerance for religion and acceptance of all religions,” Sherman said, “Especially in this day and age, with all of the controversies that are going on across the country. It's important for us to stand up and say that we're an inclusive university and accept all different people who come here, regardless of their backgrounds.”

Jacob Levin, a senior studying business management and psychology, is a member of Chabad and said he was glad the event was open to all.

“I think it’s really great to share Hanukkah with non-Jews because it’s really about the flame of Judaism continuing,” Levin said. 

Raichik agreed with Levin and said Hanukkah is meant to be a public display. 

“The whole purpose of lighting the menorah is to publicize the story of Hanukkah, which is why many Jewish people have the custom to light their menorahs outside or by a window so everyone could see,” Raichik said. “The more people that see and participate in lighting the menorah, the more you have tapped into the purpose of the menorah in the first place.”

The public nature of Hanukkah has spurred some new importance for the holiday. While Hanukkah is perhaps the most well-known Jewish holiday in America, it is traditionally not one of the most important, as the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, occurs in early fall. The public awareness of Hanukkah and the menorah’s purpose have given the holiday new weight.

“It has become easier and easier to … blend into the general population, to the extent that not everyone will even know you’re Jewish,” Raichik said. “I think that is the reason Hanukkah has become so important in recent years. Assimilation into general culture is the greatest threat to the Jewish community, so the menorah has become a symbol of the struggle against that.”

While the community lighting is the largest event of the week, as anyone is invited, the remaining seven days each host events, too. Every night includes lighting the menorah, often accompanied by another tradition. 


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Members of Chabad at Ohio University celebrate Hannukkah on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 with a small dinner and get together as they prepare for Thursday's festivities.


Tuesday, the third night of Hanukkah, involved sufganiyot, or jelly-filled donuts, another traditional Hanukkah food. Wednesday invites Dreidel, a Hanukkah game in which participants spin a small dreidel, a top with four sides, and either win or lose pieces depending on how it falls.

Thursday was another highly anticipated event for Chabad members: the Hanukkah “jarty” (Jewish-party). The evening includes carnival games, food and an open bar for those 21 and older. Joy Duke, vice president of Chabad, said the party was one of the evenings she was most looking forward to. 

“We've done a lot of Hanukkah parties, but we're trying to make it different than our previous ones,” Duke said. “Carnival games and stuff like that, and it should be really fun.”

Friday brings Shabbat dinner, opening the day of rest that lasts from sundown Friday evening through nightfall Saturday. Saturday is the Havdalah lighting, Shabbat’s closing ritual. Finally, Sunday, the eighth night, celebrates the final menorah lighting and the last night of Hanukkah.


“I think it's important that the university confirms its tolerance for religion and acceptance of all religions. Especially in this day and age, with all of the controversies that are going on across the country. It's important for us to stand up and say that we're an inclusive university and accept all different people who come here, regardless of their backgrounds.”


Molly Cohen, a freshman studying communication studies, joined Chabad upon coming to campus this fall. She said she’s been grateful to have a place to go, especially during holidays, 

“These are my first Jewish holidays away from home, so (I’m) able to spend those holidays with other Jewish people, which is great,” Cohen said.

The nightly communal events are a great way to celebrate, but they also serve a need for many Jewish students. As an underclassman, Cohen is unable to light a menorah in her room because of the university’s ban on candles in residence halls. Raichik courted for underclassmen to light their menorahs, but the plan fell through despite university efforts.

“It was a little disappointing, but it's not the end of the world,” Raichik said. “I'm sure they tried their hardest to make it work. And thank God: many students have been coming to Chabad to light the menorah, so I don't think there's any harm done.”

Cohen said lighting the menorah in her room would be great, but she appreciates the extra excuse to celebrate with her friends.

“It would be nice to be able to do it in my dorm room but, honestly, it doesn't affect me too much because I'm able to light it at Chabad, and that just gives me another excuse to be there,” Cohen said.

Coming together through Chabad each night, Jewish students are able to celebrate with one another and allow non-Jewish individuals a glimpse into tradition.

“Public displays of Judaism are the message. All the rituals of Hanukkah, like I said about the menorah, it has to be public, and the most people as possible should know about it,” Raichik said. “And that is hopefully continued through the whole year. Public displays of Judaism are the way forward and the way to maintain a strong, healthy Jewish identity and community.”

@katie_millard11

km053019@ohio.edu

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