Twenty-year-old Nathan Oshlag wears many hats. He is a third-year student at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University majoring in mathematics, a second-term president of his Chabad on Campus center and a first-term president of his Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity chapter.

Under his tenure, both organizations have collaborated on a host of cultural and educational programs serving all Jewish students, regardless of affiliation.

“We have partnered for weekly ‘Pizza & Parshah’ classes, a ‘Welcome Back’ barbecue for freshmen and will soon start a ‘BLT’ program—bagels, lox and tefillin. We’ve gotten together for some different things, too, like hamantaschen-baking (tri-cornered pastries) before Purim,” says Oshlag. (Apparently, fraternity men are enjoying time making traditional Jewish foods—challah as well.)

Building on the year’s success, Oshlag and two other officers of Chabad (who also happen to be fellow AEPi brothers) are planning a public outdoor menorah-lighting event for students and faculty. In addition to refreshments consisting of latkes (potato pancakes), hot apple cider and jelly doughnuts, celebrants will be treated to a medley of Chanukah tunes, played by the school’s bagpipe band, as well as a guest appearance by the school’s mascot, Scotty the Scottie Dog.

Rabbi Shlomo Silverman, co-director of Chabad of Carnegie Mellon University with his wife, Chani, says Chabad on Campus also arranges a room at the university where students can safely light their own Chanukah menorahs under the watchful eye of a fire marshal. The couple serves the roughly 550 Jewish students at the university.

Rabbi Shlomo and Chani Silverman, co-directors of Chabad of Carnegie Mellon University
Rabbi Shlomo and Chani Silverman, co-directors of Chabad of Carnegie Mellon University

Two additional public lightings take place beyond the main lighting: one at the Chabad House and the other at the AEPi house.

“Being able to observe the Festival of Lights together as a brotherhood demonstrates why we are who we say we are, and that we're ready to take on the reigns as the Jewish leaders off tomorrow,” says Andy Borans, international executive director of AEPi.

Quoting from the Book of Psalms, he adds: “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.”

‘Fostering a Sense of Community’

Brotherhood was a hot topic at Chabad at the University of Minnesota’s second annual pre-Chanukah Greek Shabbat, which brought together 75 students representing seven fraternities and sororities.

“It’s about fostering a sense of community and sitting around the table with fellow Jews,” says Matt Levine, program director for the office for fraternity and sorority life at the University of Minnesota, whose office helped promote the event. “Attending gives me an opportunity to celebrate Shabbat and to do it with students—a double positive.”

Organizers, led by student Misha Wahlstrom, reached out to every fraternity or sorority known to have Jewish members and invited them to send their Jewish brothers and sisters to represent them at the Shabbat dinner. And attend they did!

“We had to purchase new tables and chairs to accommodate the surge of students,” notes Rabbi Yitzi Steiner, who co-directs Chabad at the University of Minnesota with his wife, Chavi.

Commenting on the irony of a “Greek” event celebrating Chanukah, which commemorates the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greek superpower in 139 BCE, Wahlstrom explains: “The truth is that the Greek system has little connection to Greece or the people who oppressed us. Fraternities and sororities are known as ‘Greek’ only because their names consist of Greek letters. Perhaps this is the significance. They oppressed us. Yet thousands of years later, we have survived and have even adopted their letters to mold as we want, as a free and proud nation.”

For Some, a Return to a Tradition

At the University of Southern California, Rabbi Dov Wagner says he and his wife, Runya, held Chanukah menorah-lighting celebrations at nine Greek houses last year and are already fielding calls from those same place inviting them back. Many of the houses opt to sport a 6-foot menorah outside their buildings, while others feature a menorah-lighting celebration with holiday food, a short talk and some traditional songs.

“It’s an opportunity for us to connect with students who don’t feel a strong enough connection to actually go to a Jewish function,” says Wagner of Chabad Jewish Student Center of USC. “There are students who tell us that this is their first time lighting the Chanukah menorah in a long time.”

At USC, the main celebration will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 4, the last night of the Jewish holiday, when most students will have returned from break.
At USC, the main celebration will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 4, the last night of the Jewish holiday, when most students will have returned from break.

Since Chanukah coincides with Thanksgiving break this year, Wagner says his main celebration—a collaboration of Chabad on Campus, Hillel and a number of Greek houses—will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 4, the last night of the Jewish holiday, when most students will have returned from break. The celebration, which in the past has attracted roughly 300 students out of a total Jewish population of 2,000 undergraduates, will include an ice menorah to be carved on the spot, a toy drive, the Trojan Marching Band and the distribution of free menorahs.

Supplementing the local cooperation, Chabad on Campus International Foundation, in partnership with AEPi International, sends a festive Chanukah kit to the cultural chair of each AEPi chapter across North America, Europe and Israel. It includes a menorah and an “Eight Crazy Nights” guide with ideas for hosting their own Chanukah lightings and parties.

Furthermore, this year, for the first time, they are partnering with the Global Jewish Youth Initiative to provide grants for Greek houses to erect large menorahs outside their locations and host public menorah-lightings. There is also a separate grant to help enable additional Chanukah parties hosted by the Greek houses for the general student community.

“Chanukah reminds us that we are all lamplighters. That pure oil within us is capable of more than we can even imagine,” explains Rabbi Yossy Gordon, executive vice president of Chabad on Campus International Foundation. “We just need to ignite it and then share our light with others. Not only does spreading the light not diminish our own, it empowers it. That is why Chabad on Campus International Foundation is partnering with Greek houses to help bring even more light to Jews throughout college campuses.”