Although Haviva Landis failed to make latkes and light the menorah with her family, she was grateful that she could still celebrate with other Jewish students on the Chabad House campus.
For the first, sixth and eighth nights of Chanukah, Landis traveled to Chabad, where Rabbi Baruch Kantor and his family lit their menorah and led the students in Chanukah prayers.
“I enjoyed having a few latkes and being able to light the candle and have some nice hot soup,” Landis, a freshman in psychology, said on the first night.
This year Chanukah was celebrated from November 28 to December 6, and Temple University students were thrilled to participate in new and old traditions while celebrating individually or with clubs and organizations on campus. Chabad and Hillel, organizations that promote Jewish culture on campus, both lit candles every night in addition to hosting game nights.
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the consecration of the Holy Temple after years of religious persecution by the Seleucids, an Asian empire controlled by the Greeks, and the successful rebellion of the Jewish people, according to Chabad. Hanukkah lasts eight nights because during the consecration, a menorah was lit, and the oil which should have lasted only one night, lasted eight.
Although Chanukah is a minor holiday, commercialism and proximity to Christmas have played a role in boosting Hanukkah’s popularity and the tradition of giving gifts, said Lila Corwin Berman, history professor and director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History.
“There was a certain feeling that you know that, yes, it would change Hanukkah, but it would also be a way to keep American Jews feeling connected to being Jews instead of adopting other traditions outside of the Judaism, ”says Berman.
In honor of the holiday, Chabad and Hillel hosted menorah lights and events throughout the week where the students were able to celebrate together.
Hillel has also hosted cookie decorating, donut decorating and dreidel painting, said Courtney Varallo, a sophomore marketing student who works with Hillel management to organize Hanukkah events.
Varallo celebrated with Hillel on campus and plans to hold a late Hanukkah celebration with her family over the winter break, she added. Her family traditionally lights the menorah, gives gifts, and hosts a family dinner.
“For me Hanukkah is fair, mainly a good time to be with family and, you know, appreciate the people around me and celebrate Jewish life, Jewish culture,” Varallo said.
Madison Leonard celebrated Chanukah with the fatherly side of the family over the fall break and exchanged gifts. Later, she celebrated the first night of Hanukkah with her mother of the family by lighting candles.
In addition to celebrating with his family, Leonard also attended a Philadelphia 76ers game with Chabad on November 29, where there was menorah lighting on the field.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic separated families last year, being together this year was special, Leonard said.
“This year has been a very good Chanukah,” she added. “I feel like everyone was really involved and together.”
Melissa Ballow can’t light candles at her residence, so she used her electric menorah every night instead.
“It’s a little disappointing that I can’t just sit back and enjoy the flickering candle on my table,” said Ballow, a high school graduate student. “I miss that intimate feeling.”
She also celebrated the first night with Jewkebox, a Jewish a capella group, making latkes, a potato pancake, and took part in the Jewkebox concert on December 5, the last night of Hanukkah.
When she was completing her undergraduate dual degrees in Creative Writing, Editing, and Editing at Susquehanna University, she would go to Hillel House to make latkes and watch Chanukah movies and shows, like the Chanukah episode of “Rugrats” and “Hebrew Hammer,” Ballow added.
Because Chanukah is usually between Thanksgiving, Ballow’s birthday, and her grandmother’s birthday, it’s the time to bond, she added.
“It represents a time to be close to my family as it is starting to get darker and colder, but the interior of my house is really, really warm and it makes me feel really happy and safe,” Ballow said. .