Temple students celebrate Hanukkah at the university

Jewish organizations hosted events to give students a sense of community.


While Haviva Landis missed making latkes and lighting the menorah with her family, she was grateful she could still celebrate with other Jewish students on campus at the Chabad house. 

For the first, sixth and eighth nights of Hanukkah, Landis went to Chabad, where Rabbi Baruch Kantor and his family lit their menorah and led students in the Hanukkah prayers. 

“I enjoyed just having some latkes and being able to light the candle and have some nice warm soup,” said Landis, a first-year graduate psychology student, on the first night. 

This year, Hanukkah was celebrated from Nov. 28 to Dec. 6, and students at Temple University were excited to participate in new and old traditions while celebrating either individually or with clubs and organizations on campus. Chabad and Hillel, organizations that promote Jewish culture on campus, both lit candles each night in addition to hosting game nights. 

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple after years of religious persecution by the Seleucids, an empire in Asia controlled by the Greeks, and the Jewish people’s successful rebellion, according to Chabad. Hanukkah is eight nights long because during the rededication, a menorah was lit, and oil that should have only lasted for one night, lasted for eight.

Though Hanukkah is a minor holiday, commercialism and proximity to Christmas played a role in boosting Hanukkah’s popularity and the gift-giving tradition, said Lila Corwin Berman, a history professor and director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History.  

“There was some sense that you know that, yes, it would change Hanukkah, but it would also be a way to kind of keep American Jews feeling a sense of connection to being Jewish as opposed to taking on other traditions outside of Judaism,” Berman said. 

In honor of the holiday, Chabad and Hillel hosted menorah lightings and events throughout the week where students could celebrate together.  

Hillel also hosted cookie decorating, donut decorating and dreidel painting, said Courtney Varallo, a sophomore marketing major who works with Hillel leadership to organize Hanukkah events. 

Varallo celebrated with Hillel on campus and plans on having a belated Hanukkah celebration with her family during winter break, she added. Her family traditionally lights the menorah, gives gifts and has a family dinner. 

“For me, Hanukkah is just, mainly a great time to be around family and, you know, appreciate the people around me and celebrate Jewish life, Jewish culture,” Varallo said.

Madison Leonard celebrated Hanukkah with her dad’s side of the family during Fall Break and exchanged gifts. She later celebrated the first night of Hanukkah with her mom’s side of the family by lighting candles. 

In addition to celebrating with her family, Leonard also went to a Philadelphia 76ers game with Chabad on Nov. 29, where there was a menorah lighting on the court.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic kept families apart last year, being together this year was special, Leonard said. 

“This year was a really great Hanukkah,” she added. “I feel like everybody was really involved and together.” 

Melissa Ballow cannot light candles in her residence hall, so she used her electric menorah each night instead.

“It is a little bit of a bummer that I don’t get to just sit and enjoy the candle flickering on my table,” said Ballow, a graduate student secondary education major. “I do miss that  homey feeling.”

She also celebrated the first night with Jewkebox, a Jewish a capella group, by making latkes, a potato pancake, and participated in the Jewkebox concert on Dec. 5, the last night of Hanukkah. 

When she was completing her undergraduate dual degrees in creative writing and publishing and editing at Susquehanna University, she would go to the Hillel house there to make latkes and watch Hanukkah movies and shows, like the Hanukkah episode of the “Rugrats” and “The Hebrew Hammer,” Ballow added.

Because Hanukkah usually falls between Thanksgiving, Ballow’s birthday and her grandmother’s birthday, it is a time for family bonding, she added. 

“It represents a time to be close with my family as it starts to get darker and colder, but the inside of my home is really, really warm and that makes me feel really happy and safe,” Ballow said.

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