More than 100 University of Maryland students celebrated the first night of Hanukkah on Thursday night at an annual lighting ceremony for a 10-foot menorah in front of McKeldin Library.
The ceremony, which has been celebrated since 1995, was hosted by this university’s Bais Menachem Chabad Jewish Student Center, according to the center’s director Rabbi Eli Backman.
Before the lighting, Backman shared a speech about the importance of light on Hanukkah, a holiday called the “festival of light.”
“If you walk into a dark room and flip on the switch, nothing in the room is different before or after. The difference is what you see,” Backman said. “Light helps us see deeper. Light helps us see what’s around us.”
Jay Perman, the University System of Maryland’s chancellor, helped light the menorah at the ceremony.
“It’s a very warm feeling as I look around, surrounded by all of you,” Perman said. “It gives me the privilege of being with you and partaking in this very important event of lighting the candles.”
After the menorah’s lighting, attendees sang in Hebrew together.
They also enjoyed food fried in oil, including potato pancakes called latkes and fried donuts. Fried foods are an important part of the holiday because they commemorate how a small amount of oil lit up a menorah for eight nights during the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE, Backman said.
Students who attended could also take home chocolate coins, small menorahs, candles and dreidels.
Many students said they enjoyed gathering with friends and celebrating Hanukkah at the ceremony.
Among them was freshman computer science major Sarah Bransky, who attended the event wearing a white sweater she made in elementary school that featured a menorah, dreidel and Star of David.
Bransky’s family celebrates Hanukkah by giving back to the community, she said. For five nights of the holiday, her family makes donations to different charities.
“I’d like to think a big part of Jewish culture is just being kind and helping others,” Bransky said.
Sophomore journalism and government and politics major Isaac Shiner said it’s special for him to see Jewish students celebrating together despite antisemitism around the world and on college campuses.
“[This event] is a great way for us to celebrate Hanukkah, and the miracles that the Jewish people are so proud of,” he said. “It’s a really great place for all the Jews here on campus to come together to celebrate.”
Sophomore mechanical engineering major Stone Schwartz said it was his second time coming to the annual menorah lighting. Part of Hanukkah is spreading light and positivity in the world, as Backman pointed out in his speech, Schwartz said.
Schwartz and his friends will be lighting menorahs in the windows of their apartments to celebrate Hanukkah during finals week, he said.
Beryl Backman, Eli Backman’s son, said it is important to come together as a community, especially during times of tragedy, to bring light into the world.
“We have to bring as much positivity and light as we can,” Beryl Backman said. “We will be able to all come together and make this world a better place.”