Arts & Culture

Celebrating the miracle of light

The miracle of the burning oil led to the celebration of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of light, and while this holiday season is Dec. 11 through the 19, students at Hillel are already looking forward to celebrating together before they return home.

For the past three years, the Oregon Hillel has hosted a Hanukkah celebration with traditional food, games and skits to educate people about the holiday. This year, the event will include an auction for a local charity, and guests are welcome to bring any coins or knick-knacks to bargain with for the event.

Because Hanukkah officially begins during winter break this year, the celebration will be Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. at the Oregon Hillel. Hillel’s celebration offers many Jewish students away from home a place to celebrate their culture and religion with fellow students.

Senior Jeremy Markiz, vice president of religion and education on the Hillel student board, elaborated on his experiences growing up with Hanukkah.

“My mother had a more traditional background than my dad did, so we made our own traditions. We would light the candles, open the presents and talk about what the holiday meant to us spiritually,” Markiz recalled.

A Hanukkah celebration usually includes an array of traditional foods such as latkes, shredded and fried potato pancakes, and gelt, chocolate coins that are used to play dreidel. Although certain aspects of the Hanukkah celebration stay constant, people from all backgrounds and traditions contribute to the Hillel’s annual event.

Most Hanukkah celebrations feature oily foods, such as the latkes, in order to commemorate the miracle of the burning oil. Junior Ricci Cande explained that when the Maccabees defeated the Greek army thousands of years ago, they only had a small amount of oil to rededicate the temple in Jerusalem to Judaism. The one-day supply of oil miraculously lasted for eight days straight.

Junior Shayna Yellon, a member of the Oregon Hillel and the Jewish Student Union, said the celebration isn’t restricted to Jewish students on campus. “It’s not about exclusivity and the Jewish community needing our own winter holiday, but rather celebrating our history and Jewish culture with the outside community,” Yellon said.

Yellon grew up celebrating Hanukkah in a widely Christian-based community, so she frequently taught other kids at school about Hanukkah with her mom and best friend.
“In my family we always lit the candles and opened presents, even though presents are more of a parallel to Christian culture,” Yellon recalled. She believes many of today’s Hanukkah traditions were derived from a need to adapt to Christian culture.

For Cande, the vice president of public relations on the Hillel student board, the annual Hanukkah celebration is a reminder of home.

“Everybody celebrates it differently, but my grandma would always send us gelt and dreidels for the first night of Hanukkah, and when I’m missing home the Hillel celebration is a good way to stay connected to the Jewish community,” Cande said.

Although many people celebrate Hanukkah as a cultural and historical holiday, others also focus on the religious aspects of Hanukkah.

“The term Hanukkah translates as ‘rededicated,’ and I’m considering becoming a rabbi, so I like to think of the holiday as rededicating yourself to the Jewish faith, like the Maccabees rededicated the temple,” Markiz said.

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