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The GW Hatchet


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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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How students are celebrating Hanukkah away from home

Jordan Tovin | Assistant Photo Editor
A lit menorah illuminates a note from loves ones wishing a Happy Hanukkah.

Celebrating the holidays away from family might sneak up on college students as a source of homesickness and stress.

Students celebrating Hanukkah, also spelled as Chanukah among other Hebrew transliterations, are looking for ways to combat holiday-induced homesickness with their own versions of the holiday’s traditions. But living in a residence hall makes the celebration of Hanukkah, which spans finals week this year, particularly challenging as several pillars of the holiday — from lighting the menorah to frying up latkes — are one fire hazard after another, making it hard for students to observe the festival of lights in their home away from home.

Maggie Abrams, a first-year majoring in exercise science, said that being away from home this holiday season has inspired more gratitude for the people around her. She said Hanukkah is a beautiful celebration of perseverance and determination.

“It’s made me appreciate that you have to build a community by yourself outside your family,” Abrams said. 

Although Abrams said she hasn’t yet found a huge Jewish community at GW, she plans to light electronic candles each night with a Jewish friend from her residence hall and her non-Jewish roommate. Abrams said she is looking forward to sharing her culture with non-Jewish friends while maintaining fire safety in the residence halls.

Annaliese Persaud

“My mom sent me an electric menorah, so that will be used for sure,” Abrams said.

Abrams said that it makes her happy to see her friends get involved in menorah lighting and other Hanukkah festivities for the first time even if they aren’t Jewish.

“It’s so fun to see people delighted by the songs and the meanings the same way I’m sort of enticed by people putting up Christmas trees,” Abrams said.

Leia Jekel, a senior studying cognitive neuroscience, said bringing friends into the celebration has helped keep her holidays feel homey.

Jekel said her family traditionally has smaller Hanukkah parties, so keeping her celebrations tight helps remind her of home. This year, Jekel said she is excited to have a kitchen to use her grandmother’s special recipe to make latkes for her friends for the first time.

“She’ll probably be on the phone with me,” Jekel said.

Jekel said that she doesn’t particularly like doing things she’s never done before alone, so having her grandmother guide her over the phone will help her feel more connected to her family during this holiday season.

“Inviting people over and being open and hosting has been really nice for the holidays,” Jekel said.

Annaliese Persaud

Ethan Messerman, a sophomore studying marketing, said that despite living in a dorm without a kitchen last year, he and his friends were able to have a potluck-style Hanukkah dinner. He said each person brought a main meal like matzo ball soup or a side like applesauce for the latkes. Messerman said he and his friends were able to have a full spread of authentic Jewish delicacies to celebrate the holiday.

“We each brought our own foods together, and we had a nice Hanukkah dinner together while lighting the menorah,” Messerman said.

Messerman said he enjoyed teaching his non-Jewish friends about Jewish traditions, including the history of Hanukkah.

“It was cool getting the opportunity to celebrate Hanukkah with students who were not Jewish,” Messerman said. 

Messerman said college students often have to adapt to a new normal when celebrating the holidays away from home for the first time, but building a community to share stories, meals and celebrations is an effective way to combat the holiday-induced blues. 

“Part of what makes holiday traditions so important is that you spend them with your family or your community,” Messerman said.

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