No two Chanukahs are alike for college students

UMD President Darryll Pines (left) and Rabbi Eli Backman (right) take turns speaking before the menorah lighting in 2021. (Charles Summers/Mitzpeh)

As finals encroach on the University of Maryland community in the coming weeks, so does Chanukah. Students and staff at U-Md. are preparing for the eight-day festival, which begins Dec. 18, while wrapping up the semester.

Sophomore Lena Katz’s last final is on Dec. 16 and she plans on flying home to Sharon, Mass., later that day.

“I’m really excited to be with my family,” Katz said, “Last year, Chanukah didn’t correspond with winter break. It’s hard when the date of Chanukah changes every year. Sometimes, I can’t be home.”

Katz said she felt like her Chanukah last year wasn’t “complete.” She missed her family-specific traditions and her community. All four of the Katz children get their own menorah, while their parents share one, and the family listens together to singing stuffed animals.

“My dad’s mom gave us a teddy bear that says ‘happy Chanukah’ when you squeeze it,” Katz said, “We have a tradition to squeeze it after we light the candles. We also have a stuffed Jewish star that sings ‘Ma’oz Tzur’ when you squeeze it, so we sing along to that.”

Sydney Klapman, a junior, feels the same. Though she couldn’t join her family for the festival last year, she’ll be at home this year.

“My extended family always meets up. It’s the one time of year we all see each other, because I have over 300 cousins,” Klapman said, “My cousins have an arcade in their basement, with pinball machines and everything. So we always have a pinball tournament with a couple of my cousins. It’s really fun.”

Computer science graduate student Deena Postol will stay in her off-campus apartment instead of joining her family in Silver Spring.

“It’s not like Rosh Hashanah, where you have to drop everything, and it’s near finals time. It’s a really awkward situation,” Postol said. “Even at home, it’s not a super big deal. We usually do something one day.

Postol’s mom usually makes latkes, served with sour cream and homemade applesauce.

Postol likes to mix the two toppings to create a “creamy applesauce.” If her family hosts a party, Postol may take the bus home.

Even though most students will be wrapping up finals or going home by the time Chanukah starts, Jewish groups at U-Md. are still finding ways to celebrate the festival on campus.

Said Adam Bershad, director of engagement and Israel experiences at Maryland Hillel, “We’re trying to do ‘Chanukah came early,’ so we’re trying to spread the Chanukah joy while people are still here.

Maryland Hillel has planned events with latke and sufganiyot handouts, tabling and a Chanukah-themed dinner. U-Md.’s semester ends Dec. 20, which slightly overlaps with Chanukah, during which the Hillel will host nightly candle lightings.

“When students go home, they’ll be celebrating with their families,” Bershad said, “But we still want to have stuff on campus. We’re doing what we can within the limited time.”

Other Jewish organizations on campus are also holding Chanukah events.

Meor is hosting an event Dec. 11 for participants in their freshman fellowship. Chabad is hosting their annual menorah lighting in front of U-Md.’s premier library on the first night of the festival.


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