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Chanukah gives Jewish students a time to shine

Iowa%E2%80%99s+second+largest+menorah+shines+in+front+of+Younker+Hall+on+the+fifth+night+of+Chanukah.++%0APhoto+by+Liz+Paik.
Iowa’s second largest menorah shines in front of Younker Hall on the fifth night of Chanukah. Photo by Liz Paik.

By Acadia Broussard
broussar@grinnell.edu

On Thursday, the fifth day of Chanukah, Rabbi Leibel Jacobson, the Chabad rabbi at Iowa State in Ames, joined the Jewish community at Grinnell in lighting the second largest menorah in the state of Iowa. While most menorahs are small enough to be perched on a windowsill, this one towered over Mac Field at an impressive nine feet tall.

“The thing about Chanukah is that, unlike many other of our holidays, this one is purposefully supposed to be very public, so that’s why we have the giant menorah and are outside. It’s a moment where you can try to spread light over darkness for the entire community, and as challenging as that is in the times we’re in, it’s really an opportunity for us to come together as a community and show that light survives. Even after all the hardships we’ve faced over 2,000 years ago and through the hardships we’re facing now, we’re still here and we’re still celebrating and we’re still having this light,” said Dylan Caine ’21. 

Chalutzim senior student leader Jacob Friedman ’19 echoed these sentiments. “There is a long history of Jewish resistance. [Chanukah] has always been kind of like a symbolic reference for that,” said Friedman.

Friedman also connected the importance of visibility. “There’s this photo — I think it’s the most powerful photo I’ve ever seen — and it’s a Jew’s windowsill facing the Reichstag with Nazi banners all over it, and there is a lit menorah. There’s a lot of pride in it and affirmation that despite insurmountable odds you should not recede into the shadows, very literally, because it’s a festival of light,” he said. 

Chalutzim students expressed their gratitude that Rabbi Jacobson was able to join them to celebrate the holiday.

“Because we don’t have a rabbi right now, this is the second time we’re kind of outsourcing our rabbinical needs to Rabbi Jacobson, and we’re very grateful for him offering his services,” Friedman said. “The CRSSJ is working really hard and really are doing an amazing job, but from what we understand it’s tough to find a rabbi.”

Caine elaborated on the difficulties of the search, adding, “Outside of the college there isn’t really much of a Jewish community at all for the most part. There is a little bit, but in rural Iowa there isn’t that much of a significant Jewish population, so it’s hard to find rabbis who are willing to take on the challenge of building something within a not very established Jewish community. So it’s a work in progress and we’re very hopeful and we know that we will eventually find a rabbi.”

Caine expressed how happy he was with how the Chalutzim student leaders have been working to keep the Jewish community strong in this interim, and both he and Friedman voiced their optimism for the rabbi search. Optimism was a common theme with these students, from celebrating Chanukah and being proudly Jewish in the current political climate to the difficult search for a rabbi.

Regarding this attitude through tough times, both students shared a common expression recited on Jewish holidays, including Chanukah:

“They tried to kill us, they failed, and now we eat,” said Caine.

Iowa’s second largest menorah shines in front of Younker Hall on the fifth night of Chanukah.
Photo by Liz Paik.
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