University presidents and deans nationwide got into the Chanukah spirit this past week as nearly 40 – many of whom are not Jewish – attended parties and menorah lightings sponsored by Chabad Jewish student centers serving their campuses.

Since the late 1970s, public menorah lightings have become in essence a signature Chabad-Lubavitch event. At locations across the globe, centers sponsor Chanukah parties and lightings, where dignitaries mingle with the public. During the holiday, parades of cars topped with electric menorahs travel through town streets.

At Indiana University Bloomington Tuesday night, university president Michael A. McRobbie attended a unity event with Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan in support of the Chabad House-Jewish Student Center. Vandals struck the Chabad House last month, removing the word "Jewish" from the building's side.

Rabbi Yehoshua Chincholker, co-director of the Chabad House, lauded McRobbie for his attendance at the event, noting that the Jewish group enjoys an "excellent relationship" with his office.

"We are very happy that he is showing solidarity with us and other Jewish organizations," said Chincholker.

Turning to the timing of the event – the last night of Chanukah, when all of the menorah's lights are kindled – the rabbi said there was no better time to demonstrate Jewish pride and unity.

"The message of Chanukah is the triumph of spirit over matter, the triumph of light over darkness," he explained. "Religious freedom is common to all man."

In that vein, Rabbi Ariel Rav-Noy, co-director of the Chabad Jewish Club at California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo, saw in the attendance of the university's president at the center's Dec. 5 grand opening the proof that Jewish students could be proud to explore their heritage. Some 290 students attended the bash.

"Students have referred to the Chabad House as their energizer and their connection to Judaism," said Rav-Noy. "More than 30 students have already signed up for the kosher food plan and thank G‑d, the center is thriving.

"Whatever item you seek is here," he continued. "For those who want services, we have them. And for those who are simply looking for a safe place to come and socialize, they know where we are."

Thousands of Menorahs

Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, right, co-director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, presents a menorah in the shape of a school bus to the university’s chancellor Richard Herman.
Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, right, co-director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, presents a menorah in the shape of a school bus to the university’s chancellor Richard Herman.
All told, according to a survey conducted midway through the eight-day holiday by the Chabad on Campus International Foundation – a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based organization that helps coordinate activities among some 100 independently-run Chabad Houses serving college campuses – three-dozen high-ranking administrators, including presidents, chancellors and deans, attended Chabad-led Chanukah celebrations. Joining them were 45 other faculty members from Columbia University in New York – where the Chabad Resource Center directed by Rabbi Yonah and Keren Blum also honored Nobel laureate Dr. Eric R. Kandel with the lighting of the menorah – to the University of Colorado at Boulder.

At Columbia, university president Lee Bollinger lit the menorah's shamash candle on Dec. 11. Judith Shapiro, president of the school's Barnard College, lit the menorah Dec. 6.

And for the nearly 200 people who gathered at Cornell University's Ho Plaza on Dec. 9, the lighting of Chabad at Cornell's ice menorah – university president David Skorton had the honors – was the first Chanukah event in three years that occurred while classes were in session. It was also the first time that the Cornell Hillel joined with Chabad to help sponsor its traditional community lighting.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, chancellor Richard Herman lit the menorah in a Dec. 5 ceremony sponsored by the Chabad Center for Jewish Life and attended by 200 students. Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, co-director of the Jewish student center, said that it was an honor to host the chancellor and that he presented the administrator with a menorah in the shape of a school bus.

"His dedication to continued education helps spread light on this campus," said Tiechtel in explaining the gift.

The Chabad on Campus survey also revealed that this year, just shy of 14,000 – 13,900, to be exact – students attended public menorah lightings, while 17,980 attended other Chabad-run Chanukah parties. About 14,000 Chanukah kits were also distributed by campus-based Chabad Houses. Containing a menorah, candles and an instruction booklet, the kits enabled students to light their own menorahs either at their dorms – where sanctioned by university policies – or at their Chabad House.

Chabad on Campus also distributed menorahs nationwide to students on campuses not served by a Chabad House.

"When you look at the data, you realize that Chabad helped an additional 32,000 students light the menorah this year," stated Chabad on Campus executive director Rabbi Yossy Gordon. "Not only does a little bit of light expel a lot of darkness, but the nature of light is that it spreads. There truly is an explosion of Jewish life on campus."