The Rohr Chabad Jewish Center at the University lit a 9-foot-tall menorah in front of a crowd of about 200 people to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah on Wednesday.
The eight-day holiday commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple by the Maccabees after their victory over the Seleucid Empire in the second century B.C. Rabbi Zev Johnson, co-director of Rohr Chabad, said the center would cooperate with Chabad of Austin to light a menorah at the state capitol today.
“There will be literally thousands of lightings of menorahs taking place at the same time,” Johnson said.
The holiday celebrates the miracle of a one-day oil supply used to rededicate the Temple lasting eight days. After an introductory speech by Johnson, Michelle Arbov, president of the Chabad Jewish Student Organization, lit the shimash candle at the center of the menorah.
Johnson led traditional blessings in Hebrew and students sang “Hanukkuh, oh Hanukkah” after Arbov lit the candles. Center member Ben Freed, a Middle Eastern Studies and journalism junior, gave a special blessing after the ceremonies.
Despite the religious nature of the event, Johnson said the hopeful message of the Hanukkah story and the Maccabees’ triumph over the Syrians has relevance beyond the Jewish community.
“It’s a dynamic world and there’s a lot of crazies, and some might even call it anarchy taking place right now,” Johnson said. “The menorah reminds us that that ultimate light spells the darkness. We have to feel empowered to represent the menorah in our personal lives.”
Johnson said the potato latkes and fried doughnuts the group served after the ceremonies reflected Hanukkah tradition, as the items were fried in oil, representing the miracle.
Volunteers from the Chabad center served food as two students played electric guitars and jugglers performed in front of the menorah.
“It’s the holiday of joy, so we just wanted to bring another element of joy to the event,” Johnson said of the jugglers.
Arbov said the event gives students a place to celebrate the holiday with others when they cannot celebrate it with their families.
“It’s a way to be able to relate to others, to find an outlet on campus to celebrate the holidays if you’re not able to have a break like you do for other Christian holidays,” she said.
Rachel Alpert, a nutrition sophomore and a member of the Chabad center, has attended the menorah lighting for the last two years. She said she appreciated the opportunity to celebrate the holiday with other Jewish students.
“It’s a little bit more fun this year because I know people, and get to see them,” she said.