Max Emmer stands to the back of the crowd as everyone gathers around, excited to repeat Chanukah’s yearly ritual of lighting the menorah. The ones toward the front don kippot and know the prayers by heart, while people on the fringe admire the lights and smile at the familiar tradition. Emmer, not reciting the prayers, is content to simply be a part of the tradition and feels like he did his part. “Now I can tell my mom I lit the candles,” he says. “That means presents.” With the prayers over, Emmer heads home and the crowd thins, quickly emptying Marsh Plaza. Families across the country repeat the same act, but this group is a bit different. Here, at Boston University, hundreds of students, faculty and staff gather on Marsh Plaza in center campus to light a giant menorah as a celebration of this holiday season.
The BU celebration of Chanukah runs differently than a typical commemoration for one simple reason: the variety of people. Reform, conservative and orthodox Jews--and everyone in between--come together on one campus to honor the Maccabean emancipation from repression. Unlike families who can easily celebrate at the appropriate level for their faith, BU students are a mix of people who want to follow their specific traditions usually under one roof: Hillel, the center for Jewish life on campus. Jewish students fall into two broad categories here: religious and cultural Jews. Both are celebrating Chanukah, albeit in very different ways and meanings. Religious Jews follow the traditions and history, while cultural Jews, a group staking a very different spot in Judaism, celebrate any way they know how and see fit.