For the first time in recent memory, the diverse organizations representing Yale’s Jewish community came together over the weekend for a single event — a festive menorah-lighting on Beinecke Plaza on Sunday evening.
The Jewish heritage organization Chabad at Yale sponsored and coordinated the event — which celebrated the sixth night of the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah — for the second straight year, but for the first time this year the group teamed up with the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, AEPi fraternity, AEPhi sorority, Jews and Muslims, the Chai Society, the School of Management Jewish Student Association and the Jewish Law Students Association.
“Tonight something monumental is happening at Yale University,” Chabad Rabbi Shua Rosenstein said at the beginning of the ceremony. “For the first time, every Jewish organization on campus is coming together and uniting for one event.”
Rosenstein said he saw symbolism for the historic coalition in the holiday’s iconic candelabra, whose distinct branches combine to form one body.
Chabad hosted a similar menorah-lighting on Beinecke Plaza last year, but the organization decided to include the other Jewish organizations in this year’s ceremony in order to facilitate the spirit of togetherness, largely owing to the vision of Chabad President Michael Friedman ’08, Rosenstein said.
“When I became Chabad president, it was my goal to create a greater sense of unity between Jewish groups on campus,” Friedman said. “This is the culmination of that effort.”
In an interview before the ceremony, University Chaplain Sharon Kugler said the unifying spirit of Sunday’s program reflects the broader pattern of religious pluralism at Yale.
“I find the religious life here very heartening. You don’t have to be of any one religion to feel welcome,” she said. “The student population is very enthusiastic, and that gives me energy.”
As the Yale Klezmer Band performed traditional Jewish music on Sunday, over 100 members of the Yale community gathered to partake in the latkes, jelly donuts, chocolate gelt, hot apple cider and mini kosher hot dogs organizers had set out.
Minutes before things got underway, organizers had feared the ceremony would be foiled by weather, as a light drizzle intensified into a steady shower. But as the program’s 7 p.m. start time approached, they decided to relocate from the center of the plaza to the shelter of Commons’ colonnade.
“In spite of the rain, the turnout is nothing short of a Hanukkah miracle,” attendee Nate Glasser ’11 said.
The program included an appearance by Kugler, who said during her remarks that the theme of light reminds students of traditions during the holiday season, just as the religious observances can provide a welcome respite from the stresses of finals.
“This time of year, when we’re often struggling with end-of-term commitments, you can forgo that state for a little while and think of bigger things — stories that go back centuries, hope and light,” she said.
Physically lighting the night’s six candles proved logistically difficult. Each candle was lit by a representative from each of the sponsoring organizations, who had to mount a ladder, reach to the top of the approximately 15-foot metal menorah, remove the glass bulb encasing the candle fixture, ignite the wick and replace the glass. The entire process took 15 minutes.
The Yale Precision Marching Band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” following Rosenstein’s expression of gratitude to the religious freedom of the United States. After the lighting of the candles, the band performed the traditional holiday song, “Oh Hanukkah,” and Noah Lawrence ’09 sang the Hebrew hymn “Maoz Tsur” to his own guitar accompaniment.
Hanukkah celebrates the ancient Israelites’ unlikely victory over the Greek Assyrian occupiers of Judea in the second century B.C.