Hanukkah festivities blend tradition, education

Courtney Lewis

Lit candles, laughter and latkes highlighted an evening of tradition for 40 students at Hillel, the Jewish student center.

Although the events for Hanukkah did not begin at the center on the first night of the eight-day festival because of Thanksgiving break, Rabbi Sharon Stiefel said the center always finds time to celebrate.

Stiefel, Hillel’s associate director, said the goal of many of the events is to educate people about Israel.

Many of the activities incorporate oil – used to fuel the menorah that dedicated the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem to God – by cooking potato pancakes, called latkes, offering massages with oil and providing nosh sufganiot (jelly donuts) for students to eat.

With the Jewish calendar determining the first night of Hanukkah as Nov. 29, Stiefel said it was great for Jewish students to spend the night with their families because of Thanksgiving break. Although the Jewish calendar varies each year, Stiefel said Jewish students are usually in school, feeling the impact of the “December dilemma.”

“Although Hanukkah is not as important on the religious calendar, it’s still important for students, especially when the Christmas mainstream culture is in their mix,” Stiefel said.

Elizabeth Suesskind, a fifth-year family and social science major, said it was nice to be home with her parents this year.

“Personally, it’s a family-oriented holiday for me,” Suesskind said. “We stand around the island in the kitchen and sing songs.”

Suesskind said the holiday is not about presents, but she was glad to receive the 20th anniversary edition of the Trivial Pursuit game on the first night of Hanukkah.

Wednesday’s Hanukkah party focused on education of Israel this year, with a large plastic map to walk on and 3-D pictures of temples and monuments in Israel.

The map was coordinated with the game of Twister with each color representing a region of Israel. Blue represented the costal area, red stood for the bordering countries, yellow was the Palestinian-occupied region and green was the color for the eastern valleys.

Stephanie Nygard, a member of Friends of Israel, said she hoped the map and game would help people become more familiar with the geography of Israel.

She said the 3-D pictures were meant to show people a country many young Jews do not visit as often anymore.

“Because of the terrorism and the rising violence, not as many people are taking advantage of their birthright to visit our country,” Nygard said. “We want people to see what a beautiful country Israel is.”

The map featured a comparison of the state of Minnesota and Israel to show students how much smaller Israel is than Minnesota, Nygard said.

She said incorporating Twister into the map was meant to help students learn where different cities and towns are in the country.

“We really want people to have fun, learn something and see Israel in a positive way,” Nygard said.

Although Suesskind said she was not “up on her Jewish geography” enough to play the map game, she said the annual Hanukkah party gives her the chance to spend time with friends and celebrate the holiday when she is still at school.

“When students can’t be with their family, we have a really important role of helping them feel the spirit and warmth of this holiday,” Stiefel said. “We try to be their home away from home.”

Courtney Lewis welcomes comments at [email protected]