Jewish Student Union fosters connections as students ‘adapt’ to Hanukkah amidst pandemic

Menorah%27s+are+set+out+in+display+in+preparation+for+lighting+the+menorah+candles+later+in+the+evening.+This+year%2C+Hanukkah+was+celebrated+differently+by+Archer%27s+Jewish+students+and+the+Jewish+Student+Union+due+to+COVID-19.

Photo credit: David Ben-Naim

Menorah’s are set out in display in preparation for lighting the menorah candles later in the evening. This year, Hanukkah was celebrated differently by Archer’s Jewish students and the Jewish Student Union due to COVID-19.

By Rio Hundley, Features Editor

This year’s eight-day observation of Hanukkah falls right at the end of first semester, from Thursday, Dec. 10 to Friday, Dec. 18. This holiday season will likely be different from any other with COVID-19 infection rates rising, family gatherings moving onto Zoom and gift shopping moving online. Although Hanukkah will be different this year, many members of Archer’s Jewish Student Union (JSU) have a deep connection with the winter holiday.

“I always remember as a child I’d have these toys that would sing Hanukkah songs. And I would just play with them for [all eight nights],” JSU leader Zoe Berman (’21) said. “My grandparents and my cousins came, and we all opened presents together and lit the candles and had latkes. I always remember the Adam Sandler Hanukkah song; I remember my brothers and I found that song and we love singing and listening to it.”

Despite the importance of Hanukkah in individual households, JSU members said the holiday is often overshadowed by Christmas. In fact, according to Berman, Hanukkah does not traditionally include the exchanging of gifts but has taken up that meaning for American Jews celebrating alongside Christmas.

“When I was little I was kind of jealous of Christmas, because of all the toys, but as I’ve gotten older, I realized Hanukkah is more about remembering our ancestors [and] the story of Hanukkah with the oil for burning for eight nights,” Berman said. “I think all Jewish holidays are really special and kind of a family time to celebrate. I know this year’s going to look different because obviously my relatives can’t come over because of COVID, but I always enjoy lighting the Hanukkah candles with my family.”

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, JSU leader and senior Eva Dembo, along with leader Berman, hosted a Hanukkah-themed meeting for their current members.

“At Archer during Winter Wonderland here’s always latkes, and during our club we sent out a recipe out for everyone to make them before the club meeting or sometime during Hanukkah because that is an Archer tradition during winter,” Dembo explained.

I remember playing dreidel with my sister. We would get really into it and I just remember we’d [there] with our faces on the floor, spinning the dreidel. ”

— Eva Dembo, on her favorite Hanukkah memory

New Archer student Avery Greene (’26) has only had one previous experience celebrating Hanukkah at school, which she described as “offensive.” She was grateful to have a Hanukkah celebration to attend at Archer even if it was on Zoom.

“[My teacher] sung a Hanukkah song but it wasn’t even correct Hebrew,” Greene said. “That’s the one memory I have of having Hanukkah at school. So this [JSU meeting] is a lot better than I’ve ever had, actually.”

Dembo expressed the importance of creating a shared space to celebrate, especially given the absence of Winter Wonderland this year.

“Most of our club members, this is their first year at Archer,” Dembo said. “They haven’t been able to experience to experience a Winter Wonderland at Archer, so we wanted to help them experience an aspect of Winter Wonderland as best as we could.”