Wednesday, December 1, saw UCI’s first ever on-campus menorah lighting, hosted by the Chabad UCI and co-sponsored by the Jewish Law Association of the UCI Law School. Nearly a hundred people, students and community members alike, braved the vicious chill to come out to the event, which was funded in part by Associated Students of UCI (ASUCI). The event was situated around a giant menorah at the flagpoles. Each candle was encased in a glass vase to shield it from the wind.
“It signifies bringing light to a dark place,” Chabad’s Rabbi Zevi Tenenbaum told the gathered audience. “One good thing a day is not enough; tomorrow we should do two good things, and the next three. That’s part of the reason why tomorrow we light two candles.”
A guitarist played songs as people arrived at the event. After Tenebaum’s introduction, he led everyone in prayer along with a tune on the guitar as the shamash was lit.
Traditionally, Tenenbaum explained later, the menorah is lit out of doors, or at least facing the outdoors after sundown.
“The idea is to illuminate the darkness of night,” explained Tenenbaum. “Darkness on its own has no substance; rather, it is the absence of light. Darkness, hatred and evil only exist due to a lack of light, knowledge and goodness. At Chabad, it’s our mission to increase this light of love and kindness to our campus.”
That idea is the primary symbolism behind lighting the menorah, a symbolism that was magnified many times when it took place on the campus of a school that has, in the past several years, been home to much tension and strife not only for the Jewish community but within it. Indeed, to stand at the same location frequented by many anti-Zionist speakers in the spring and witness a 10-foot tall menorah shining in the night, surrounded by both Jewish and non-Jewish students and community members, was enough to fill one with a certain sense of warmth and comfort.
After the shamash and first candle were lit, and the prayers sung, the guitarist started up again on his guitar. A group of people joined hands and began dancing in a circle around a reporter from the OC Register, who smiled as he snapped photos of the dancers whirling by. Platters of steaming home-cooked latkes partnered with jars of applesauce and sour cream were descended upon and devoured in a mad rush of waiting audience members. Boxes of sufganiyot and gelt sat at another table, and at yet another sat boxes of Chabad-provided free menorahs, each of which included a box of candles, matchbook and a dreidel.
“Last week our social action division collected 80 toys from students on Ring Road to be distributed to underprivileged children in the area,” Tenenbaum said. “It’s these acts of random goodness that illuminate the darkness and remove the hatred from our campus and the world at large.”
Asked if he has any plans to hold similar events for future Jewish holidays, the rabbi affirmed that Chabad UCI has and will continue to host major events for every Jewish holiday.
“We host Sukkot dinners in Chabad’s 20×50 Sukkah, student Passover seders in UCI’s Student Center (we had over 100 people attend last year), Purim parties and free High Holy Day services in the Student Center,” Tenenbaum said. “The Talmud teaches that on Chanukah, there is an obligation of ‘Persumei Nesah’ – which translates to ‘Publicizing the Miracle’ of Chanukah. This is the reason why Chabad has placed so much importance on holding public menorah lightings and displays.”
The menorah is a commemoration of the victory of the Maccabees over their oppressors and stands as a symbol of religious freedom until today. It sends a message of power, Rabbi Tenenbaum stressed, of light triumphing over darkness.
“One small candle dispels much darkness,” Tenenbaum stated, “just as random acts of goodness can defeat much evil and darkness of the outside world. Our Menorah was lit in the same spot in which an Anti-Israel propagandist spewed out his hatred last May. Chabad’s response to such darkness and hatred is to add Light, the Light of Knowledge, the Light of goodness, the Light of Holiness.”