Willamette’s Jewish Student Union Fosters Community With Its Hanukkah Celebrations and Beyond
Willamette’s Jewish Student Union, or JSU, is a student-run club that celebrates the Jewish community on campus. The core values of the organization are part of what make JSU so important to the Willamette Jewish community. When asked about those values, Noa Landau-Camarillo, the Co-Vice President and Treasurer of the club, stated that, “community is a really big one. I think that sometimes there is this misconception that Jews can be lumped into one big box, and that’s really not true…JSU really aims to create a space that, regardless of opinions, [really] foster[s] inclusivity, connection, [and] community, and we [also] want to be able to create a space to share memories and...moments of our lives together.”
One of the ways that JSU attempts to build this strong community is with their weekly Kiddush on Friday nights after sundown. Kiddish is a ceremony of prayer and blessing usually performed by the head of a Jewish household at the meal ushering in the Sabbath on a Friday night or a holy day. These occur throughout the year thanks to the Chabad Organization of Salem and the local Salem Temple (Chabad). JSU also brings in speakers from time to time, as well as throwing parties and other events to celebrate Jewish holidays such as Hanukkah and Passover.
Building this sense of community to campus is paramount to the club because being a religious minority can be challenging, especially at Willamette which is technically Methodist and thus tends to be Christian-orientated. When asked what it feels like to be part of a non-Christian organization at this University, Landau-Camarillo responded with, “It's something that we are fairly constantly aware of…something we joke about a bit is that Campus Ambassadors are called the ‘Campus Ambassadors,’ and there's really no word for their name that associates them with Christianity, even though that's what they are, Christian Ambassadors.”
Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates the miracle of oil, lasting for 8 days after the historic ransacking of the Jews’ religious spaces. Starting on the first night of the shamas, one candle is lit as individuals pray, thanking God for the light that was given to them. Each night a candle is added until you reach the final day, and while it is not a significant part of the religious practice, gifts are often given on various nights. When asked about the importance of Hanukkah and the menorah, Landau-Camarillo brought it into the 21st century. “It's almost as if you lose your phone, [but] there's something really important that you gotta do [on it], [so] you turn it on and it's like at one percent-[but somehow] it lasts like eight hours on [that] one percent.”
This year, a menorah lighting ceremony and Hanukkah party were put on to observe and celebrate this annual holiday. The menorah was lit by both the Willamette and general Salem Jewish community, as well as its allies. The 9-foot tall metal menorah was donated by Chabad, who again also sponsors JSU’s weekly kiddush. Each candle on the menorah was lit by different groups, such as the Chaplain’s office, Chabad, executive members of JSU, and members of Willamette's Jewish community, to name a few. Prayers were recited by all, and a beautiful celebration ensued. A speaker played Jewish holiday music and kids and adults danced. There were sufganiyot (Jewish jelly donuts) and potato latkes available, as well as tea to drink. At the start of their Hanukkah party a day later, there was a rose-thorn icebreaker activity intended as a way to help people get to know each other. There were also amazing latkes, bread and applesauce to eat. The activities included coloring pages, playing dreidels and eating chocolate gelt (coins), while more latkes were made and served through the duration. This year was the first year that there has been a menorah lighting on campus, though there are plans to make this a tradition in future years.