Duke students leaned over a row of small candles, concentrating on the eighth in the menorah, and recited a blessing for the lights.
The glow reflected off their faces as dozens of students Wednesday recited the memorized prayer together on the final night of Hanukkah.
“Baruch ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech ha’olam, Asher kid’shanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.”
Together in the Bryan Center on campus, they thanked God for sanctifying them with His commandments, and for commanding them to kindle the final Hanukkah light.
Many of these Jewish students were celebrating the finale to the Jewish holiday far from home, where families cook latkes, or potato pancakes, pass out chocolate gold coins, or gelt, and light the candles and spin the dreidel. They’re recalling their people’s history from centuries ago, when the Jews stood up against their Syrian-Greek oppressors and reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
According to the Jewish Student Union on campus, about 10 percent of Duke’s student population is Jewish, and Hanukkah traditions unite them.
“It’s the food,” said Rebecca Simons, director for Jewish Life at Duke. “It’s the memory of lighting the candles with their family.”
Now, “they can be with their Duke family,” she said.
The Jewish Student Union has given out free menorahs and candles this past week to students who started their fall semester and realized they had forgotten to bring them.
Before and after the candle lighting, students lined up for more latkes - Three-gallon tubs of sour cream and multiple plastic containers of applesauce were the fixings. Duke Dining provided the kosher meal of sweet potato and regular latkes.
More than 150 people got in line in less than 10 minutes. There were 1,000 latkes for the taking, and metal serving trays couldn’t be replaced fast enough as students grabbed the tongs.
Simons said classes at Duke end Friday, so “it’s nice to know this is like the last hurrah.”
Duke biomedical engineering sophomore Jason Albert held a little plate of latkes, maneuvering through the crowd to grab a side of applesauce. He said he was taking a break from cramming for an exam he had Thursday, and he was spending the final night of Hanukkah without his family.
“I get to have a taste of it here,” he said of family traditions.
Duke Rabbi Jeremy Yoskowitz took photos of the student group, wearing a Blue Devils yamaka. He said the holiday was different this year - Because Hanukkah partly overlapped with Thanksgiving break, many students got to go home and celebrate the first few days with their families.
His own family makes latkes, lights the candles and gets out the dreidel during the eight days and nights.
“Jewish Life tries to give (the students) a home-away-from-home environment,” he said.
Duke electrical computer engineering and computer science senior Glenn Rivkees said he has been involved in the Jewish Student Union since he was a freshman. He said they hold this Hanukkah get-together every year and also a Bar Mitzvah celebration, a Jewish coming-of-age ritual, in the spring, to showcase their traditions on campus.
“Food in general is a big way to bring people together,” he said, motioning to the packed bar and grill in the student union that night.
He added that this week, they’ve held candle lightings in K-ville, before the Duke basketball game, and even got a few Michigan fans, the visiting team that evening, involved. A few nights ago, they held a candle lighting for students and faculty.
“It feels really nice and home-y for us to be able to do that,” he said.