Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Celebrating Chanukkah at Mac

Macalester Jewish Organization, or MJO, was one of my first homes on campus. They goaded me with bagels and schmear during my first year orientation, and over two years later here I am at the Chanukkah Party. While many college students can't imagine celebrating Christmas away from home, I look really forward to Jewish holidays spent on campus.
Noah and Jacob prepare the fixins for the potato latkes at our Chanukkah Party: sour cream and applesauce.

MJO is wonderful because it functions as a welcoming community that engages with Jewish traditions but that does not subscribe to particular subsets or strict rules of Judaism. Rather, we hold informal gatherings that provide a space for relaxation, talking about the best parts of our weeks with friends, goofing off, and sharing food. When a holiday rolls around, MJO does its best to celebrate.
Sasha mans the stove, flipping latkes like a pro.

This year’s Chanukkah party was quite well-attended, as potato latkes (potato pancakes) are certain to draw a big crowd. Our leaders sweated over hot frying pans, churning out the latkes, while the crowd, consisting of regular members of MJO as well as non-Jewish friends who were curious or just hungry, chatted outside. We in the kitchen resisted the common magnetism of kitchens at parties everywhere, urging people into the other room and playing the Chanukkah Pandora station on someone's laptop.
Just moments before this photo was taken, the crowd (seen through the window in the other room) attempted to gather in the kitchen. Although the kitchen is obviously the best place to hang out at any party, we managed to lure them outside so we could finish preparing.

When it came time to commence the celebration, we lit a roomful of menorahs (one at each table) and took our turns scooping sour cream and applesauce (contentious!) onto freshly cooked latkes. Intense games of dreidel were played while new traditions, like playing catch with uncooked potatoes, were formed.

Heather arranges the candles on one of our menorahs.

At one point, Rabbi Barry Cytron (who logs triple-duty as the rabbi advisor to MJO, Religious Studies professor, and Jewish chaplain in the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, and who is generally the best) dropped in on our party with the largest container of Chanukkah gelt, or gold chocolate coins, I have ever seen. He indiscriminately passed out coins to every person in his path.

This is my latke. Who needs to choose between sour cream and applesauce? Not I.

I love that my Jewish experience at Macalester is about fostering a sense of community more than anything else. I also love that plenty of my friends who aren’t Jewish feel included in that community. The continuous stream of snacks, I will admit, also helps.