Before Christmas, there was Chanukah.
On Tuesday, Dec. 3 at the UC, Jewish student organization UTK Hillel will sponsor its annual Chanukah party.
"The whole holiday of Chanukah is really about religious freedom," said Deborah Oleshansky, director of UTK Hillel. "So everything that we do, all the songs will be religious freedom songs. As we light the candles, instead of saying the traditional Hebrew prayers, we are going to actually do readings of religious freedom. In the same way that we like to be respected and not assume any particular religion, I want to be respectful in the same way."
Although the party falls on the seventh night of Chanukah, Hillel will be lighting all eight candles at 6:30 in the UC Plaza. Dani Rosenberg, a newly-crowned Homecoming Highness and member of Hillel, will be honored at the Chanukah Party as one of the eight candle lighters.
"I have never lit the candles on campus before, but simply at home with my family growing up," said Rosenberg, a senior in retail and consumer science. "I feel so honored to be lighting the candles this year for Hillel. Each year, Hillel chooses a leader for this honor and I can't believe that they chose me this year."
Chanukah is celebrated in Judaic tradition by lighting a candle on each of the holiday's nights in commemoration of an ancient miracle in which one day's supply of oil kept the menorah, a candelabrum, lit for eight days.
While the candles are being lit during Hillel's celebration, songs of religious freedom will be led in English by a small choir of school children while music sheets are handed out so everyone can sing along.
Following the songs and candle lighting, guests will be invited inside for traditional Chanukah desserts, including latkes – or potato pancakes – and jelly doughnuts. Meanwhile, guests are encouraged to play "jewpardy" and spin the dreidel.
UTK Hillel is the Knoxville chapter of the international organization which unites campuses and students all over the world in the practice of Judaism. Although the majority of Hillel members are UT students, any college-age, university-attending student is welcome to become a member.
Liz Spencer, a sophomore at Pellissippi State Community College majoring in production and photography, makes the commute as often as she can to participate in UTK Hillel events.
"(Oleshansky) recruited me right when I got here," Spencer said. "Every time I've come it's been awesome."
Oleshansky described the small percentage of Jewish students on campus as "shocking" and stated the population of Jewish persons in Knoxville is approximately 1,400. Currently, Hillel is the only representation of Judaism on campus, and there is not a synagogue present or building associated to the Jewish faith.
Rosenberg said she feels that if Judaism were better represented on campus, more students might feel comfortable to practice their faith.
"I strongly believe that we need a large presence on this campus because there are hundreds of Jewish students that are unaware that we have such an organization," Rosenberg said. "The University of Tennessee prides itself in diversity, and having a temple on campus would only encourage that."
This will be the first in a number of years that the Chanukah festivities will be hosted on campus. Previous parties were almost exclusively attended by organization members, but this year, Hillel members hope to introduce the themes of Judaism and the Chanukah holiday to a broader audience.
"There are so many people that stop me, whether it's a friend or they see my shirt that has Hebrew writing or stuff like that, and they stop me to ask me about the religion," said Emily Roberts, a junior in human resource management and member of Hillel. "So, (the Chanukah party) is honestly a really great way for people to learn about it, and it's not going to be weird. They won't feel like the only non-Jewish person there. That's the point of this, everybody is coming and learning. You have fun and you learn about it in a really great way."
To find out more about the Campus Chanukah Party, visit www.utk.edu/events/index.php?eID=54852.
To learn more about UTK Hillel, visit web.utk.edu/~uthillel/.