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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Chabad UF celebrates second night of Hanukkah

A giant Menorah lighting, traditional Jewish food and festive music filled Plaza of the Americas

Rabbi Berl Goldman takes a picture of a group of girls in front of the menorah at the Plaza of Americas on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.
Rabbi Berl Goldman takes a picture of a group of girls in front of the menorah at the Plaza of Americas on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.

As the sun went down Monday evening, light shone from the crowd of about 70 Jewish Gators grasping blue, white and orange candles. The flame passed from person to person, spreading light in the spirit of Hanukkah. 

The Gainesville Jewish community gathered in the Plaza of the Americas to celebrate the second night of Hanukkah with a campus menorah lighting. A tent in front of Library West showcased tables of latkes, doughnuts and menorah kits. 

Waiting for the ceremony to begin, guests gathered around the tables, participated in prayer, bought menorahs, and grabbed chocolate and jelly doughnuts.  

Following Chabad UF Rabbi Berl Goldman’s command, the crowd chanted “Happy Hanukkah!” in unison to begin the ceremony. 

Lubavitch Chabad, a Jewish organization at UF, is the largest social service in the world. Goldman said there are 250 campus chapters in the country and 5,000 centers worldwide. The Chabad Jewish Student and Community Center at UF has served for over two decades and hosts one of the largest student populations out of Israel, Goldman said. 

Nicole Buenavida, Chabad UF president, greeted the guests, thanked them for coming and shared one of the meanings of Hanukkah: dedication. Chabad UF co-director Chanie Goldman shared another: education. 

Guests then heard from Rabbi Aron Notik, UF President Kent Fuchs and Center for Jewish Studies director Norman Goda. 

Goldman dedicated the kindling of the flame of unity, peace and freedom to the U.S. armed forces and health care heroes around the world. 

Lighting the menorah emphasizes Hanukkah’s celebration of light over darkness, Goldman said.

Each night, another candle is ignited to increase the light, which is one of the important messages of Hanukkah— always striving to grow, Notik said. 

“What we did last night doesn’t suffice,” Notik said. “We always have to increase in our positive energy, in that light we bring to ourselves, to our communities, to our surroundings.” 

Students, faculty and Gainesville residents stood in front of the menorah, holding their lit candles as the flame ignited the giant menorah’s second candle. 

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Under the glow of the menorah, guests continued to nibble on traditional treats and listen to Hanukkah tunes. “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made you out of clay,” echoed throughout the plaza. 

Lori Sharabani, a 20-year-old UF advertising junior, stood beneath the tent and distributed sufganiyot, Israeli doughnuts. She said fried food like doughnuts and latkes serve as a reminder of the oil that burned for eight days — a miracle during the war where Jews revolted against the oppressive Syrian Greeks. 

For Sharabani, Hanukkah is her favorite holiday. Most years she is home, in Miami, for at least a few of the eight days, but this year she will spend all of Hanukkah in Gainesville. This event reminded her of home and allowed her to feel the holiday spirit. 

“Hanukkah is a message of hope, a message of freedom, universal freedom, and it resonates with old and young the like,” Goldman said. 

Attendees could also grab a menorah kit complete with a dreidel and chocolate Gelt coins for free. 

“Bring light, joy and the lesson of Hanukkah to your own space,” Goldman said as he encouraged guests to take a menorah. 

A Chabad Rabbi, Yoni Tilson, flew from Pennsylvania for this event. He gave guests menorahs, Gelt and yarmulkes. 

As the guests stood together eating, talking and passing the flame of their candles, the Gainesville Jewish community united. 

Leah Weintraub, a 20-year-old UF biomedical engineering junior and Chabad UF member, looked forward to seeing this event unite the Gainesville Jewish community. Growing up in Surfside, she always felt the prevalence of a Jewish community, but in Gainesville, it was harder to recognize. 

“There is a Jewish community, but you don’t really see it on a daily basis,” Weintraub said. “So, just seeing the entire Jewish community come out in support of Hanukkah and this celebration means a lot to me.”  

Chabad UF has an event planned for each of the eight days of Hanukkah, sometimes even two events for one day, Goldman said. 

Following the ceremony, the rabbi announced and invited guests to a hip-hop concert with sushi Thursday night at the Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Student Center at 2021 NW Fifth Ave. 

The light of the menorah, now replaced by lightbulbs, continues to glow as a reminder that a little bit of light expels darkness. 

Contact Emma Behrmann at Follow her on Twitter @emmabehrmann.

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Emma Behrmann

Emma is a second-year journalism major with a minor in Spanish. She is the education reporter this semester. She's from Palm Harbor, Florida, but her second home is the gym. When she’s not writing she’s either deadlifting, squatting or benching.

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