It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Granted, the temperature drops below zero, the beauty of the fall foliage is lost under the heaps of snow we get in Ottawa and, of course, all our favourite winter accessories make their annual appearance. All this aside though, Chanukah is quickly approaching, in itself contributing to it being the best time of the year.
Chanukah is one of the more underrated Jewish holidays, concealed somewhat by the shadows of Christmas. While there may not be a huge menorah in the middle of the Rideau Centre; or a Maccabee meet-and-greet comparable to Santa Claus; or enough Chanukah films to match the ever-growing number of Christmas movies, Chanukah holds a special place in my heart.
The holiday of Chanukah has always been a personal favourite of mine, and not just because of the sufganiyot and latkes we get to consume. When I was younger, I would naturally associate this holiday with eight days of receiving gifts. I would spend weeks on end creating wish lists that I would (incredibly obviously) hint at my parents and extended family for. This was a holiday I would look forward to year-round. It still is, however for very different – and less shallow – reasons.
To me, Chanukah is a celebration of family and togetherness. It celebrates a story of defying the odds, achieving extraordinary triumph and success. Chanukah is a holiday rich with unique traditions, of every family celebrating the eight nights in its own special way. In my family, for the longest time, Chanukah meant congregating at my late grandmother’s house, being surrounded by exceptional company, and having a delicious meal. I loved every moment of those family dinners, and would give anything to be able to go back in time to re-experience one today, as a young adult. The unifying beauty I find in all Jewish holidays is that they each hold a strong emphasis on togetherness and family. Not one day passes where I don’t think about my lost relatives, and the incredible memories we’ve shared. Holidays, though, serve as an extra reminder for me to truly appreciate family and the precious moments I get to have with them.
As I’m sure many other students can relate, we now often find ourselves in difficult positions where we have to choose between staying at school or celebrating the holidays at home with our loved ones. While some of us are lucky enough to end final exams before the start of Chanukah, others are not. Luckily, there are many Chanukah programs and traditions to be found here in Ottawa.
I can truly attest to Ottawa having become my home away from home. The warmth of the Jewish community here is unmatched, the resources available for Jewish students are flourishing, and they really do make all the difference in one’s university career.
For those who will be staying in Ottawa over Chanukah, try to take the opportunity to attend a community or student event! There will be a candle lighting taking place on both campuses, as well as many more community events to take part in.
Don’t hesitate to get involved! Though you may be away from home for the holiday, you still can celebrate Chanukah. The warmth of the Jewish student community on our campuses – manifested through such organizations as Hillel Ottawa and the Rohr Chabad Student Network – and Ottawa’s broader Jewish community conveys a family-like environment, complete with exceptional company and delicious foods.
Chag Sameach, everyone!