Coinciding this year with Thanksgiving weekend, and coming just before the grueling weeks of final after final, Chanukah would have to compete aggressively for the attention of students on large urban campuses or those tucked away in quiet suburbia. But on campuses from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, to Columbia University in New York City, Chabad’s public Menorah lightings and festive celebrations have come out ahead, reaching thousands of Jewish students with the spirit of joy, light and Jewish pride.
On a campus that once shunned Jews, Duke University’s President Nan Keohane will officiate at the university’s first-ever public Menorah lighting ceremony taking place in a prominent location in the center of West Campus. The city’s Mayor William Bell and local congressmen will join nearly one hundred people as they share the torch of unity, lighting each other’s candles at an event that will likely be Chabad’s most popular project since its arrival here at the onset of the school year, with several local papers and television stations expected to cover the ceremony.
Duke, says Rabbi Zalman Bluming, Chabad representative to the campus, “is not just a university, it’s a way of life,” and reaching students whose lives are part and parcel of Duke University, requires becoming “one of them.” So in the few short months since the Blumings have arrived, Chabad has started its own student group on campus and Rabbi Bluming serves as a recognized university chaplain. And to fully integrate Jewish activity with student life on campus a Chanukah “dorm storm” has Rabbi Bluming visiting several dorms and setting up smaller, more intimate Chanukah parties for students who might not take the initiative to participate at Duke’s first public Chanukah celebration.
In Florida, Gainesville’s Jewish community and students at the University of Florida this Chanukah were snowed in. The blizzard, arranged by Chabad at the university, was fabricated of synthetic snow but it drew some 400 students and community members for a magnificent Chanukah celebration. Participating at the kindling of a a grand menorah sculpted of ice were Gainesville’s mayor Tom Bussing, city commissioners, and a Gator football star. A live performance by the Gainesville Klezmer band and sizzling Chanukah latkes and doughnuts made students get into the spirit.
At the University of Michigan, latke stands adorning the college campus are one venue Rabbi Alter Goldstein is using to reach many of the university’s six thousand Jewish students throughout the holiday. Another is a series of more than ten indoor Chanukah parties Rabbi Goldstein is organizing at dorms and sororities across the campus. And in an effort to reach Jewish faculty members Chabad is sponsoring a Chanukah roller-skating event geared towards university professors and doctors at the university’s hospital, and their families.
A Menorah lighting ceremony in the center of campus at the University of Maryland drew some 200 college students, but the roving Chanukah party is still the most outstanding feature of Chabad’s Chanukah celebrations here, according to Rabbi Eli Backman. Over the course of the eight-day long holiday Rabbi Backman is visiting some fifteen fraternities and sororities and bringing Chanukah to hundreds of students in the comfort of their own living rooms so that the holiday becomes truly a part of the students’ lives.