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News & Events

Smith Celebrates Hanukkah

A Report by Sofia Walker '11

Smith's Hillel, the Jewish student-run organization on campus, holds an annual Hanukkah party to celebrate the holiday.

As the days darken, festivals of light multiply. Recently Hillel, Smith's Jewish organization, held its annual Hanukkah party. Attendees were treated to free food, a tableful of lit menorahs, dreidel competitions, and dancing to klezmer music. The tables, covered in blue cloth, were strewn with tinsel stars of David, chocolate coins, or gelt, and dreidels.

The atmosphere was social, especially when the band, Klezamir, began teaching dances. Raisa Rubin '14, who spent last Hanukkah in Israel, confirmed, "It's a very community-oriented holiday." This sense of community was extended to all Smithies, not just Jewish students. Sofia Annis '11, said that although she is not Jewish, she enjoyed the holiday. "It's just really nice and festive. I even put up a little makeshift menorah in my room." The band played swing tunes and jazz as well as more traditional klezmer songs.

Hanukkah has its origins in the Maccabean Revolt of 167-165 BCE. Jerusalem was under the control of the Seleucid Empire, which was finally overthrown by Judah Maccabee and his brothers. The Seleucids had desecrated the city's temple, which had to be rededicated. In the temple was a menorah that must burn all night every night. The recent war, however, had depleted supplies of oil, and so there was only enough to light the menorah for one night. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days and eight nights, the time required to prepare more consecrated oil.

In honor of this holy oil, Hanukkahis traditionally celebrated by eating fried, oily foods, as well as lighting candles in a menorah. Smith's Hanukkah Party featured latkes with sour cream and applesauce, apple cider, and jelly doughnuts. Students played the dreidel game, with chocolate gelt as their gambling pieces. The Hebrew letters that mark each side of the dreidel direct you, once the top has stopped spinning, to take all the gelt, take half of it, put one piece in the pot, or do nothing. They also stand for the words "a great miracle happened here," in reference to the eight days of miraculous light.

"That's really what Hanukkah is about," said Elena Coleman '14. "Getting together and lighting candles in the darkness. Like what Christmas was originally." Hanukkah has little importance as a religious holiday compared with Sukkot or Passover, and many at the party speculated that it has become so popular in the United States due to the example of Christmas. But minor holidays have their charms as well; Mia Terkowitz '11 remarked that "during a lot of Jewish holidays you can't work. Hanukkah doesn't really have any of those limitations. It's just a very fun holiday full of light and happiness." The Hanukkah Party certainly succeeded in communicating that spirit. No matter where one looked in the room full of light, there were smiling faces to be seen.