By Brogan Gerhart
The first candle was lit on the 10-foot tall menorah on McKeldin Mall, celebrating the beginning of Hanukkah, Sunday evening.
This year’s annual candle-lighting ceremony held special significance to many of those in attendance, as this Hanukkah is being celebrated a little over a month after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Rabbi Eli Backman opened the lighting by talking about the menorah as a symbol for how a little goes a long way in the quest for peace.
“The candles represent the potential within,” Backman said. “We get started small, but once we take that step, and ignite the fire within, all of us can bring light to the darkness and warmth to the cold.”
After speaking, Rabbi Backman introduced President Wallace Loh who wished everyone a happy Hanukkah, and talked about the celebration as a symbol of hope for the Jewish community and as a way to remember those who had fallen during the attack in Pittsburgh.
“It is up to all of us to provide light to a time in our nation when there is darkness,” Loh said. “Darkness due to hate-bias and anti-Semitism and other kinds of hatred that are a threat to the soul of this country. But today we celebrate, and by lighting the menorah we commit ourselves to bringing light to darkness.”
SGA President Jonathan Allen had the honor of lighting the menorah during this program’s 22nd year on campus and its second in front of McKeldin Library.
“It was a tremendous honor as a Jewish student on campus and a student leader,” Allen said. “It was a bit difficult with the wind, but it meant a lot to be here. I’ve been here every year since my freshman year and I’ve seen the student leaders before me light the menorah, so it was an honor to do it myself this year.”
After the lighting of the menorah, students enjoyed hot latkes and gelt (chocolate coins) as they ate and caught up with friends celebrating the beginning of the holiday.
Steven Grutman, a senior computer science major, said that coming out to the menorah lighting was a must for him. “It’s Hanukkah,” he said. “It’s a great celebration, a big group gathering and it’s a lot of fun.”
Even some non-Jewish students who were studying inside of McKeldin came outside to partake in the celebration of over 100 students around the menorah. Dheesh Nelapatla, a junior computer science and finance major, said that even though he isn’t Jewish, it was fun to be a part of the celebration with his friends.
“I was working upstairs in the library when [my friend] asked me if I wanted to come out to see the lighting with him,” Nelapatla said. “It was good. I like to appreciate every culture and the festiveness of it all. It was my first time having a latke too, so that was amazing.”
Dreidels, personal menorahs and candles were also distributed by UMD Chabad as gifts to the students in attendance.
Morgan Hoffman, a freshman engineering major, said that it was her first time attending the menorah lighting. “It was really cool,” she said. “It was nice coming together as a community and I really loved that President Loh spoke.”
“I like that we didn’t just say the prayers, we also sang and danced,” Hoffman said. She said she appreciated the gifts provided by Chabad as well. “At least for me, and a lot of other students, I didn’t bring my own so it’s really nice to be able to get it here.”
Overall, Allen summed up the celebration by seeing the lighting as a statement made by the entire Jewish community on campus.
“Despite what’s going on around the country and the rise of anti-Semitism, we can all unite as a community and be a part of our campus and not shy away and have to do it in our homes or in hiding, but as a sign for the whole community to see,” Allen said.
“We’ve received tremendous support from the university, the university leadership, Chief Mitchell and UMPD,” he said. “It means a lot to have their support during these difficult times.”