Of all the Chanukah celebrations on campus happening, there are 2 generic types: one, usually by Hillel, entails a party (usually in Hillel), with games, free food, acapella performances, and a communal candlelighting. The second, usually by Chabad, entails a public lighting of the menorah in the middle of campus, and also has free food and music. Either of these also has the optional ‘celebrity upgrade’, featuring the president of the university or some other public figure.
Both very nice, and perhaps necessary – but definitely not sufficient. First of all, how many people are coming to these parties/lightings? A few dozen? A few hundred? Best case scenario it attracts 20% of the Jewish students on campus, usually the most religious or active ones. Additionally, the time/effort/funding that goes into planning these programs ensures that they happen only 1 or 2 night of Chanukah. And finally, while seemingly in line with the mandate to “publicize the miracle”, these lightings are actually ineligible and ineffective at fulfilling the commandment, which has to be at the entranceway to your home.
Which is why Heart to Heart pioneered a new model through which to celebrate Chanukah on college campuses. Instead of trying to bring everyone to 1 location, which physically and mentally tends to crowd out non-regulars, we take the holiday to the people – literally. The strategy consists of 2 different models: candle-lighting and caroling. For candle-lighting, we map out campus housing and where people live, and then assign point people to set up, get approval for, and publicize candle-lighting stations in those locations/dorms.
Usually there are 1 or 2 students who are dedicated enough to light in their rooms, so this just requires them to light in their lobby instead and stand by the candles. But now you also have dozens or hundreds of students walking by each of these candle-lighting station and coming over – which means that if you plan and schedule it right, you can reach over 50% of Jews on campus! And that’s including tons of students who would never go to Hillel but “Light candles?! I love lighting Hanukkah candles!” Bring some extra menorahs and throw in some donuts, dreidels, and friendly faces, and you got yourself a party!
The other part, which can either work in concert with the stations or stand alone, is Chanukah caroling. It’s exactly what it sounds like – groups of people going around singing Chanukah songs (the Adam Sandler one works great) and spreading the holiday joy. You can go acapella or get an accompanying band, you can give out gelt and donuts or just laughs and smiles, and you can go through the library (a little quiet), frat houses (a little loud), or the candle-lighting stations in the dorms (just right). It might be the songs and the free food that draws people in, but there’s something about the friendly people and welcoming experience that appeal to people. I remember that time this random girl stopped me – “Are you guys singing Hanukkah songs?” Shoot, I thought as I answered in the affirmative, I’m annoying her and infringing on her personal space… “Ohmygod I love Hanukkah! Can I come around singing with you?? And I have this friend down the hall and he would also love…” Some of the people I met those nights have turned into and remained my friends, with whom I’ve shared many more Jewish celebrations.
It turns out most Jews want to celebrate Chanukah and their Judaism, they just might need the right celebration and the right messengers. And in the college setting which is so often devoid of home, these intimate, Heart to Heart Chanukah celebrations can provide just that, rekindling their Jewish memories from childhood – or helping them create new ones. That is the message of the victory of the decentralized Jewish activists, and the meaning of the menorah in the window: that it is each and every individual’s personal relationships, micro-community, and home-building that ensures the Jewish future and gives us all a reason to celebrate.