Jewish Student Union holds Hanukkah party

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The Jewish Student Union lit their menorah as they celebrated Hanukkah at Straz Tower

“I think it’s important to offer events to Jewish students on campus during holidays like this because it allows us a chance to connect both in a religious and social sense. As a small group on campus, sharing our common traditions helps us build a strong community,” Michaela Brooke, a junior in the College of Health Sciences and the vice president of JSU, said.

The holiday was instated after Israel (then Judea) came into the power of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who outlawed the Jewish religion and massacred thousands; it is seen as a celebration of the resistance of Jewish people in that time. Most of the traditions that take place in the holiday are an homage to Jewish history and spirit.

“We followed the traditional customs of lighting the Hanukkah candles and saying the blessings, playing a game called a dreidel, and eating fried potato pancakes called latkes. We mostly wanted to provide an environment for everyone to come and have a good time together,” Brooke said.

The blessings said while lighting the Hanukah candles are all thanking God for helping their ancestors and letting them come together to celebrate.

Playing dreidel, another common Hanukkah tradition, was a way for Jewish people to study the Torah while it was illegal.

Eating latkes (potato pancakes) is also very significant to the times of Antiochus, Brooke claims.

“In part of the story of Hanukkah, the Jewish people wanted to light the traditional oil lamps in the temple but they only had enough oil to last one night. But miraculously the oil lasted for eight nights, long enough for someone to make the long journey to get more oil. To celebrate this miracle, we eat foods fried in oil on Hanukkah such as potato latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts),” Brooke said in an email.

The celebration was hosted by the JSU but was organized with the help of Hillel Milwaukee.

“Hillel Milwaukee strives to create a dynamic, warm and celebratory Jewish environment for Milwaukee’s university students and young adults where they can explore and express their Jewish identities and gain a sense of belonging within the Jewish community,” Anna Goldstein, assistant director of Hillel Milwaukee and Marquette alumn, said.

The organization (a branch of Hillel International, a Jewish organization with over 500 branches on campuses worldwide) helps the JSU and other clubs in the Milwaukee area.

“We offer holiday and cultural programs, Shabbat dinners, leadership opportunities, social action projects, Israel programs, outdoor activities, and social gatherings. We welcome Jewish young adults from all backgrounds, including religious, secular, and interfaith. We are also open to all local students who have a sincere desire to learn more about Judaism,” said Goldstein.

Although most students might not have the time or resources to celebrate Hanukkah with their families, the JSU tries to bring tradition to campus.

“We’re a small club, but we try to do as much as possible on campus”, Jordan Pajeau, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences and the president of the JSU, said.

All the work put into these celebrations, and most of what the JSU and Hillel Milwaukee do is to help young Jewish adults celebrate their traditions away from home.

“It is important for Jewish students to be able to celebrate Jewish holidays on campus because many of them are celebrating these holidays away from their families for the first time. Being able to celebrate holidays like Hanukkah together with their Jewish friends and also share it with people who have never celebrated is very meaningful,” Goldstein said.

This story was written by Clara Lebron. She can be reached at clara.lebron@marquette.edu