By Jack Wisniewski
Even though Hanukkah does not start for another two-and-a-half weeks, students found time to celebrate the Festival of Lights together before the end of the semester.
Students played holiday games among a DJ light show while indulging in latkes, donuts, ice cream, and hot chocolate at Maryland Hillel’s Winter Fest Wednesday night.
“Winter Fest is a Hanukkah holiday winter celebration,” said freshman sociology major Olivia Sharon, a member of the Winter Fest planning committee. “It’s an opportunity for groups in Hillel to come together at the end of the semester.”
Hillel invited its network of 30 student groups and Jewish Greek organizations to host tables at the event to engage attendees.
As a representative of Taglit Birthright, junior public health major Jess Goldstein distributed giveaways and told students about visiting Israel.
“Winter Fest brings together the whole Jewish community at Maryland Hillel,” Goldstein said. “I hope to not only talk to students about Israel, but about Birthright and why they should go on the trip next summer.”
For sophomore government and politics major Max Strasser, the president of Alpha Epsilon Pi, Winter Fest made reaching out to Jewish students easier.
“It’s a good time for Jews to come and celebrate the holiday,” Strasser said. “A lot of students are coming out.”
Alyssa Silva, Hillel’s program and operations associate, said that planners of the event sought to reach out to groups that do not frequent Hillel, such as freshmen and Greek life.
“At these large events like Winter Fest, you’re seeing a more diverse group of Jewish people walk through this door,” said Silva. “People who may not want to come every Friday night for Shabbat dinner would be more than willing to come to Hillel for a Hanukkah party with free latkes, sufganiyot, and a DJ.”
Shira Movsas, a junior public health major, said she enjoyed Winter Fest despite the timing of the holidays.
“I like the good vibes, the good latkes, and the abundance of sour cream,” said Movsas said. “But it’s a shame because this year it’s not on Hanukkah.”
The late holiday season forced this year’s Winter Fest to fall long before Hanukkah but close to the fast approaching finals week.
“That’s not Winter Fest’s fault though,” Movsas said. “It’s free food, fun activities, and a nice break from studying for finals.”
Silva said that stress before finals makes Winter Fest more enticing to stressed students.
“It’s a way for students to forget about finals and just enjoy some Hanukkah spirit alongside other Jews,” Silva said. “They have an evening where they can come to Hillel, eat good food be with their friends, and let loose for a night.”
Hillel promoted the event through Facebook. Students who registered before the event were automatically entered into the raffle at the end of Winter Fest, which included prizes such as a Nice Jewish Boy Calendar and Hanukkah mugs and sweaters.
While sophomore journalism major Connor Moldo did not win any prizes, he said that Winter Fest makes up for being 3,000 miles away from his home in Los Angeles, California.
“Winter Fest brings us all together under one roof for an evening of festivities,” Moldo said. “Even though I’m so far from home, I feel comfortable.”