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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Roommates observing different religious holidays celebrate traditions new and old

Jordan Tovin | Assistant Photo Editor
First-year roommates Hannah Streeter De Taborda (left) and Lydia Nassef (right) embraced their respective Jewish and Catholic traditions this holiday season.

Each year, the holiday season is a bombardment of Santa hats and Nativity scenes as Christmas dominates December.

While Christmas may be the most wholly represented winter holiday, it is not the only celebration — Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Winter Solstice are just a few of the plethora of other holidays. Pairs of roommates at GW celebrate different winter holidays and have taken the opportunity to learn all about a new culture.

First-year roommates, political communication major Olivia Occhipinti and international affairs major Estelle Cohen, said solidarity is important when it comes to honoring and respecting each other’s traditions and practices. Cohen is Jewish and celebrates Hanukkah, while Occhipinti said as a Muslim she does not celebrate any winter holidays.

The pair said they anticipate celebrating Hanukkah alongside friends — and, of course, a dreidel. They said they also plan to celebrate future holidays together like Eid, a Muslim holiday in April that Occhipinti celebrates. Cohen said she plans to gift Occhipinti a Moroccan dress for Eid and will join her for future Iftars, the meal eaten after sundown on Ramadan.

Cohen and Occhipinti said they are very conscientious of all of each other’s religious practices, not just holidays. Occhipinti said she attends Shabbat dinners, a weekly Friday night dinner to observe the Jewish day of rest, with Cohen. Cohen, for her part, said she sometimes reminds Occhipinti to pray.

Being Muslim, Occhipinti said she prays five times a day. She said that in Islam, when an individual is praying, people are not supposed to walk in front of one’s prayer mat so as not to sever the line between them and God. 

“She always walks around the prayer mat, even if it’s so inconvenient for her to do it,” Occhipinti said. 

Besides Hanukkah, the two said they intend to celebrate something they call “winter love” together because neither celebrates Christmas. They said they haven’t decided what the celebration will entail, just that it will be a way for them to celebrate with each other.

“It’s just that we just love each other and we love winter and it’s super secular,” Cohen said. 

Lydia Nassef and Hannah Streeter De Taboada, two first-year roommates majoring in philosophy and exercise science, respectively, also share their holiday traditions. Nassef, who is Catholic, celebrates Christmas, while Streeter De Taboada, who is Jewish, celebrates Hanukkah.

Streeter De Taboada said during their time living together, she has taught Nassef about Jewish traditions like eating challah, a traditional bread eaten on Shabbat. Nassef said she tried some at the campus org fair this past fall.

“Honestly, next semester, it’s gonna be a lot more stuff,” Nassef said. “I just enrolled in Judaism.”

Both roommates said the winter holidays are less about religion and more about tradition and family for them. Streeter De Taboada said decorating a Christmas tree together brought a sense of family togetherness that she enjoyed.

“I guess there’s also a sense of nostalgia to them, which is really nice,” Streeter de Taboada said. “And I know it sounds basic but just being with family and that connection.”

Nassef said she went with Streeter De Taboada to the Jewish student organization Chabad GW’s Mega Hanukkah event in Kogan Plaza last Tuesday. Nassef said it was her first time hearing a prayer in Hebrew. The pair also said they want to continue their celebrations by baking challah and other traditional Hanukkah foods this year.

Nassef said Judaism is still somewhat unfamiliar to her, as she went to Catholic school in a predominantly Catholic town all her life. But she said she feels lucky to be rooming with and learning from Streeter De Taboada.

“It’s cool that now I’m learning about another religion through someone who I’m such good friends with,” Nassef said.

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