Local Jewish group celebrates Hanukkah on the Amherst Common

This is the fourth night of the Jewish holiday

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Local Jewish group celebrates Hanukkah on the Amherst Common

Alvin Buyinza/Collegian

Alvin Buyinza/Collegian

Alvin Buyinza/Collegian

Alvin Buyinza/Collegian

By Alvin Buyinza, Assistant News Editor

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Last night dozens of members of the Jewish community in Amherst came out in the cold to eat food, sing Jewish prayers and light a giant menorah all in celebration of the fourth night of Hanukkah.

The event, hosted by the Chabad House of the University of Massachusetts, was an effort to educate the public about the lessons of Hanukkah, said Rabbi Chaim Adelman, one of the event’s organizers.

“I think it’s a cool way to get the community involved,” said Jack Lawson, a conservative Jewish student at UMass. “There’s a strong Jewish community in the Amherst area, but there is not always a lot of opportunities for us to be able to get together to do stuff, so I think this is a good way to do this.”

As this is his first time going to this event, Lawson hopes to build a greater bond with the rest of his community.

Modern Jewish music filled the town common as people gathered around a table to eat doughnuts and latkes, or potato pancakes, both of which are foods that are commonly eaten during Hanukkah internationally and are valued for their oiliness.

“Ashkenazi Jews, so Jews from eastern Europe, will eat latkes,” said Lynley Rappaport, a resident of Amherst. “Whereas Sephardic Jews or Jews from Spain and the Ottoman Empire will doughnuts – jelly doughnuts. So different places have different traditions, but it’s all about the oil.”

Oil in the Jewish religion, according to Rappaport, symbolizes the miracle of the menorah burning for eight nights after the destruction of the Jewish temples.

In addition to oil, chocolate coins or Hanukkah gelt were given to children, as well as real gelt, or money, which was distributed by Rabbi Adelman.

“We do give some [money], and those who can give more certainly give more. It’s meant as part of the holiday practice to get the kids and the adults involved,” said Adelman.

Halfway through the event, Adelman then gathered everyone to sing Jewish prayers as Hananel Hazan, a postdoctoral student from UMass, lit the menorah.

After the lighting of the menorah, Adelman, accompanied by his colleague Yoseph Gottlieb, a member of the Chabad House and his eldest son Mendel, sang Haneirot Halalu, a traditional Hanukkah song.

Adelman closed the event on an introspective note, challenging his audience to think about what the candles mean.

“As we watch the menorah burn tonight in downtown Amherst…we say, ‘look at the candles, look at what they tell us!’” he said.

“The light, the energy that they convey to us, they inspire us to continue to go on with our lives happily, with strength and vigor growing and increasing with our acts of kindness.”

Alvin Buyinza can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @abuyinza_news.