This year, the bulk of Hanukkah falls during the university semester at Dal, and some students such as Liane Cloutier are carving time out of their busy exam schedules to celebrate the festive Jewish holiday.
For Liane, a fourth-year Biology student from Kitchener, Ont., it will be an opportunity to learn more about some of the holiday’s many traditions and to gather with friends.
“For the last two years, there hasn’t been much on campus,” she says. “So this year will be a great year to learn.”
Educated at a French Catholic school for language reasons and with minimal emphasis on religion at home, Liane knew very little about the Jewish roots on her mother’s side growing up.
She decided a few years ago to change that, convincing her mother, sister and brother to get involved, too. “All of us together decided we wanted to do Passover and learn more about Judaism,” she says.
A trip to Israel with her older sister the summer before she started at Dal was another significant step in Liane’s educational journey. It also led to a connection with someone at Hillel Atlantic Canada — the division of the Atlantic Jewish Council that caters to Jewish university students in the region.
“I was blown away by how inviting they were,” says Liane of Hillel Atlantic, which counts many Dal students among its ranks. She says the group has opened her up to a whole new community of friends.
Now a board member at Hillel, she’s one of the organizers of a once-a-month Shabbat dinner (a free Friday evening affair that begins the weekly day of rest) and other social events linked to Jewish holidays, such as a masquerade ball during Purim in March.
And this year, she’ll finally get to know Hanukkah — one of the most widely observed of all Jewish religious observances.
The eight-day celebration symbolizes the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem through the lighting of a candle on each day of the festival. Hanukkah tends to be less liturgical than other holidays in the Jewish calendar and revolves more around personal experiences rooted in family gatherings.
With many students still away from family during exams this year, Hillel organized several events to help create a feeling of home away from home, including a Hanukkah-themed dinner on Dec. 1 that incorporated several hallmarks of the season such as candle lighting, foods cooked in oil (potato latkes, etc.), and traditional prayers.
And coming up there will be two candle-lighting events, one on the first night of the festival (Dec. 12) and another on the final night (Dec. 20). Depending on staffing, the group may open their doors during the other evenings as well.
“It’s nice for people to have a place to come and light candles if they want,” says Liane, who has made time to help plan and staff the events on top of studying for four exams.
For her, it’s yet another step in her quest to learn more about her Jewish roots.
“I’m slowly getting more into it, which is amazing,” she says. “My friends who aren’t Jewish at all are super supportive and they come to my events all the time. They’re like ‘I love that you’re growing and learning all this,’ and I’m like, ‘me, too. It’s awesome.’”
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