COLUMBIA — Students packed the MU Student Center on Monday evening, most studying and preparing for their final exams. Some, however, were there for a different reason — to celebrate Hanukkah.
The Chabad Jewish Student Organization lit four candles on a 9-foot tall menorah in the Student Center. Monday marked the third of the eight days of Hanukkah. Chabad volunteer Daniel Ackerman said the group held the event on Monday because there is more traffic in the Student Center and it was important to get as much participation in the event as possible.
“It’s important people experience different cultures regardless of their religion,” Ackerman said. “It’s really cool the school is allowing us to do this in such a public place.”
Rabbi Avremi Lapine and his wife, Channy Lapine, established the Chabad Jewish Student Organization in the fall of 2011 with the purpose of starting Columbia’s first and only Chabad house.
“There was a need for one, and the Jewish student body is growing,” Rabbi Lapine said. “We’re for all students, no matter their affiliation.”
Chabad-Lubavitch is part of the Hasidic branch of Orthodox Judaism and was founded in the late 18th century in Lyubavichi, Russia. The movement currently has more than 200,000 followers.
At MU, the Chabad numbers about 50 Jewish students, but the organization is growing. According to its website, it is “an organization providing vibrant Jewish student life at Mizzou and neighboring universities.”
In addition to the lighting of the menorah, the celebration at the Student Center included sing-along music and latkes, which are potato pancakes traditionally served during Hanukkah.
“The menorah represents religious freedom,” Rabbi Lapine said. “Doing this at the Student Center in such a public place shows people can be open about religion. Hanukkah is the holiday that everyone can join in.”
Students in attendance at the event included Jews, both Chabad members and nonmembers, and people of other religions as well.
“It’s really cool. I’m dating a Jewish guy and a lot of my friends are Jewish, so I’ve been exposed to the religion,” sophomore Sarah Rosselet, a Roman Catholic, said. “It was a nice study break. They did a really good job.”
Jeremy Hershey-Nexon, president of the Chabad Student Jewish Organization, said he was pleased with the event.
Hershey-Nexon said he believes students were receptive of the menorah lighting.
“We wanted other students to be able to celebrate with us because it makes for a more joyous occasion,” he said. “This was very reminiscent of what the Jewish students did when they were children, so I think it was a very good thing.”
Freshman Amy Field said the event allowed her to celebrate the holiday without her family.
“This is my first Hanukkah away from home, so this is important to have,” she said. “We don’t get to go home for our holiday.”
Rabbi Lapine said he hopes the ceremony sent a good message to students and inspired them to change the world.
“The message of Hanukkah is about lighting up the world,” he said. “This is especially important for these young people to see. Just like one little candle can light up the room, one little deed can change the world.”
Supervising editor Karen Miller.