A menorah made of cans of food was spread out on a table at Miami’s Phi Delt Gates on a chilly evening Tuesday, Dec. 4 as Jewish students celebrated what the time-honored symbol of their faith means.
The lighting ceremony was a celebration of Hanukkah put together by Chabad on Campus, a home-away-from-home for tens of thousands of Jewish students and recently started on the Miami campus.
Kenzie Bernstein, a Miami sophomore from Chicago, is president of the Jewish Heritage Program, a student organization affiliated with Chabad.
She said she was hesitant to be too involved in her faith when she came to Miami because of the uncertainty about how she would be received. But she soon learned about the JHP and grew excited about being involved in the group.
“What is JHP about? Giving back. What is Judaism about? Giving back,” she said.
All those cans of food donated to create the large menorah were then given to the Oxford Community Choice Pantry to be used to feed people in the Talawanda School District.
“Thanks to all of you for caring about your community and giving back,” Bernstein told the group assembled on the corner of High Street and Campus Avenue.
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“We will be lighting up the night while helping to fight hunger in our community,” said Mushka Greenberg, executive director of Chabad at Miami, before the ceremony.
The public menorah lighting highlights and encourages the central theme of the holiday — publicizing the story of the Hanukkah miracle.
“The message of Hanukkah is the message of light,” said Rabbi Yossi Greenberg. “The nature of light is that it is always victorious over darkness. A small amount of light dispels a lot of darkness. Another act of goodness and kindness, another act of light, can make all the difference.”
He recounted the story of the German chancellor meeting with a rabbi in Germany earlier this year when the subject of the impending 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht came up. Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” was Nov. 9, 1938, when Nazis killed 100 Jewish men, arrested 30,000, torched synagogues and vandalized homes and businesses of Jewish people.
Rabbi Greenberg said that Chancellor Angela Merkel asked that rabbi, “What can I do to show support for the Jewish people?” and was told to light a menorah with him.
“Two days ago, standing in the same place where an evil man had vowed to exterminate the Jewish people, the German president lit a menorah,” Greenberg said.
The website for Chabad at Miami tells a bit about the Greenbergs.
“Rabbi Yossi and Mushka Greenberg grew up in Brooklyn, NY. Rabbi Yossi graduated from the Central Lubavitch Yeshivah, and has spent much time in outreach, caring and volunteering for Jewish causes. Mushka is a graduate of Beth Chana Teacher’s Seminary in Israel, and is a preschool teacher by trade. Their love for every Jew is what drives them to follow the directives of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and open up a Chabad House at Miami University in Ohio. Akiva, Levi and Yocheved love meeting new people and greeting them with their infectious smiles,” the website notes.
More than 180 campuses are served by Chabad Jewish Student Centers.
Miami President Gregory Crawford was invited to speak and said he was excited to be a part of the menorah lighting ceremony.
“I like the call to celebrate differences,” he said.
Rabbi Greenberg called Crawford a “pillar of the community” and invited him to light the central candle of the menorah, called the “pillar.”
The rabbi then lit the three candles for the third night of the eight-night celebration.
Later, he explained Chabad organizations all over the world were holding similar ceremonies mixing religious beliefs with service and said this program was several months in planning.
“Every year is a different theme. We are thinking about next year doing Legos and donating them to the hospital,” he said.
Bernstein called the event a success.
“Judaism is about giving back to the community as well as celebrating,” she said.