Andover’s Jewish Student Union’s First Hanukkah Celebration in Over a Year

Andover’s Jewish Student Union (JSU) hosted their annual Hanukkah party for the first time in over a year this past Friday. Held in Paul’s Room in Paresky Commons, the JSU served food, including home cooked meals brought by guests. Attendees took part in lighting a Chanukiah (often referred to as a Hanukkah menorah), and offered gelt for attendees to play the dreidel.

Hanukkah is an annual Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days. Each night, a candle is lit and placed on the Chanukiah, or the Hanukkah menorah. Although the holiday is commonly celebrated with family, Jewish boarding students engage in a communal celebration with JSU.

Prior to Covid-19, the JSU hosted annual Hanukkah parties to celebrate the holiday and each other’s good company. Although the JSU did not have much time to plan this year’s celebration, Sophie Glaser ’22, co-president of the JSU, was happy with the party’s turnout.

“We started planning a bit before we left for break and… we sort of reached out to a few different people, asked them to bring food, and menorahs… We decided to meet that weekend, it was still during Hanukkah and we knew it’d be the only time we’d be able to meet while we were still celebrating so it all really came together. I was a little nervous leading up to it because I didn’t know how many people were going to show up, how long people would stay for, and how much food we would have but it ended up being really successful and I’m really happy that so many people showed up,” said Glaser.

Board member Emily Skoutas ’24 values the JSU as an inclusive space even for those who are not Jewish. Given Andover’s religious demographics, Skoutas appreciated this past Friday’s larger Hanukkah gathering compared to the smaller weekly Shabbat meetings.

“There’s not that large of a Jewish community on campus, and it’s always nice for high holiday services or for celebrations in general, like when you get a larger group than who attend the normal Shabbat, it’s really nice to see all the people there having fun talking about something that maybe they don’t really talk about in their normal, daily life… We all got together, we didn’t have one last year I don’t think because of Covid-19. So it was a nice little change, bringing it back and it was a lot of fun,” said Skoutas.

While board member Ethan Weinstein ’23 enjoyed the festivities of the Hanukkah party, he also appreciated its opportunity to spread awareness of a holiday that may be less commonly celebrated.

“I thought it was really nice when I saw so many people come. I think one of the really cool things at Andover is all the opportunities to engage with other cultures. And so obviously I hope everybody had a good time but I also hope that people, while they were having fun, maybe learned something about the holiday that they didn’t know,” said Weinstein.

In addition to celebrating Hanukkah, Glaser also noted the party to be a great way to kick off Winter term. While the latkes and games of dreidel were familiar to some, Glaser also highlighted all the new faces who attended Friday’s event.

“I think it was a really good opportunity to invite students that don’t normally come to JSU meetings. To come, just get a taste of what the club is about, and sort of open up this tradition to the larger Andover community, people who don’t typically get to experience Hanukkah or who don’t know what it’s about. And it was a great way to both educate folks and come together as a community and just hang out, talk, play dreidel and eat a lot of good food. I hope folks learned about the holiday itself and also just learned about the Jewish Student Union. We had so many people come who are not regulars at our meetings, and hopefully they’ll come back in the future because we are open for all to come,” said Glaser.

Weinstein explained that there will be future JSU appearances in The Weekender this coming term. He encouraged anyone interested to show up to future events planned by the club, regardless of religious identity.

“I know that we’re definitely going to be doing some more big things. I think there’s a Jewish cultural weekend. I’m not exactly sure when that is, but we also do things for all the big holidays. I know that people think that when they see something with JSU on The Weekender it’s only for Jewish students, but that’s not true. Everyone is welcome and we’d love to see you there,” said Weinstein.

Editor’s Note: Sophie Glaser is a Commentary Editor for The Phillipian.