The world’s first-ever gumball-dispensing menorah towered over the Button as a crowd of students, faculty, and Philadelphia residents gathered in front of Van Pelt Library to celebrate the second night of Chanukah.
Penn's Chabad House hosted the public menorah lighting on Dec. 3, which was kicked off by a Penn Band performance of “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” and “O Chanukah.” Chabad House Rabbi Levi Haskelevich spoke to the crowd about the meaning of light, both during the creation of the universe and during Chanukah, an eight-day Jewish celebration of the rededication of the Holy Temple.
“We can’t just sit and dwell on the negative,” Haskelevich said. “We have to focus on how we increase light every single day in our own lives.”
Vice Provost for Global Initiatives Ezekiel Emanuel spoke about how the holiday of Chanukah stems from an internal civil war between different groups of Jewish people. He said that during Chanukah, he reflects on his Jewish identity. He also called on the Jewish community at Penn to think about its responsibility to protect key Jewish values this Chanukah.
“We have a responsibility to take our privileged position and stand for the things that make us great: freedom, truth, free inquiry, and protecting people who are oppressed,” Emanuel said.
This year's Chanukah comes less than two months after the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Oct. 27, which was considered the deadliest attack on any U.S. Jewish community in history. Penn alumnus Jerry Rabinowitz was among the 11 people who died in the attack. Nearly 100 members of the Penn community stood in solidarity at a vigil honoring the victims two days after the attack.
After concluding his remarks, Emanuel recited a Chanukah blessing and wielded a torch to light the candles of the menorah. Haskelevich then led the crowd in singing the Chanukah song “Maoz Tzur.”
Chabad President and Wharton junior Jaime Moreinis helped organize the event, and said that although Chabad has had to increase security both at Chabad House and its events, he prefers not to focus on what has happened in the past and instead looks toward the future.
“As a Jewish people, we have to continue to stand up and continue to do our traditions, and show that we can’t be deterred by a small group of people who are out, in the Pittsburgh case unfortunately, even to hurt [other people],” Moreinis said.
After the menorah was lit, Chabad board members opened the gumball dispenser on the menorah, which was constructed by Chabad members for this event. Gumballs flooded out into a plastic bin for the crowd’s taking. Chabad also members passed out latkes, gelt, and menorah-making kits.
For Wharton freshman Noga Even, Chanukah has always meant celebrating with her family back home. She said that the menorah lighting festivities made the holiday still feel special, even though it is often ignored in the midst of the Christmas season.
Even also appreciated the gumball-dispensing menorah.
“I think it’s cool,” she said. “It’s really colorful. I don’t really get it, like I don’t know, why gumballs? But I’m glad that it’s there.”
Haskelevich said that Chabad chose the gumball-dispensing menorah because he wanted people to physically interact with the lampstand.
On Dec. 4, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro will light a menorah at a second Chabad-sponsored event at 30th Street Station.