A New Model for Chanukah Celebrations on Campus

Of all the Chanukah celebrations on campus happening, there are 2 generic types: one, usually by Hillel, entails a party (usually in Hillel), with games, free food, acapella performances, and a communal candlelighting. The second, usually by Chabad, entails a public lighting of the menorah in the middle of campus, and also has free food and music. Either of these also has the optional 'celebrity upgrade', featuring the president of the university or some other public figure. Both very nice, and perhaps necessary - but definitely not sufficient. First of all, how many people are coming to these parties/lightings? A few dozen? A few hundred? Best case scenario it attracts 20% of the Jewish students on campus, usually the most religious or active ones. Additionally, the time/effort/funding that goes into planning these programs ensures that they happen only 1 or 2 night of Chanukah. And finally, while seemingly in line with the mandate to "publicize the miracle", these lightings are actually ineligible and ineffective at fulfilling the commandment, which has to be at the entranceway to your home.

Which is why Heart to Heart pioneered a new model through which to celebrate Chanukah on college campuses. Instead of trying to bring everyone to 1 location, which physically and mentally tends to crowd out non-regulars, we take the holiday to the people - literally. The strategy consists of 2 different models: candle-lighting and caroling. For candle-lighting, we map out campus housing and where people live, and then assign point people to set up, get approval for, and publicize candle-lighting stations in those locations/dorms.

map of penn for chanukahUsually there are 1 or 2 students who are dedicated enough to light in their rooms, so this just requires them to light in their lobby instead and stand by the candles. But now you also have dozens or hundreds of students walking by each of these candle-lighting station and coming over - which means that if you plan and schedule it right, you can reach over 50% of Jews on campus! And that's including tons of students who would never go to Hillel but "Light candles?! I love lighting Hanukkah candles!" Bring some extra menorahs and throw in some donuts, dreidels, and friendly faces, and you got yourself a party!

The other part, which can either work in concert with the stations or stand alone, is Chanukah caroling. It's exactly what it sounds like - groups of people going around singing Chanukah songs (the Adam Sandler one works great) and spreading the holiday joy. You can go acapella or get an accompanying band, you can give out gelt and donuts or just laughs and smiles, and you can go through the library (a little quiet), frat houses (a little loud), or the candle-lighting stations in the dorms (just right). It might be the songs and the free food that draws people in, but there's something about the friendly people and welcoming experience that appeal to people. I remember that time this random girl stopped me - "Are you guys singing Hanukkah songs?" Shoot, I thought as I answered in the affirmative, I'm annoying her and infringing on her personal space... "Ohmygod I love Hanukkah! Can I come around singing with you?? And I have this friend down the hall and he would also love..." Some of the people I met those nights have turned into and remained my friends, with whom I've shared many more Jewish celebrations.

It turns out most Jews want to celebrate Chanukah and their Judaism, they just might need the right celebration and the right messengers. And in the college setting which is so often devoid of home, these intimate, Heart to Heart Chanukah celebrations can provide just that, rekindling their Jewish memories from childhood - or helping them create new ones. That is the message of the victory of the decentralized Jewish activists, and the meaning of the menorah in the window: that it is each and every individual's personal relationships, micro-community, and home-building that ensures the Jewish future and gives us all a reason to celebrate.

To see more or to learn how to bring this to your campus, go to

Happy Chanukah!

The Craziest Week Ever for H2H

I just want to quickly share what Heart to Heart is planning for this coming week:40 H2H Shabbat dinners, across 10 different campuses and Chanukah candle-lighting stations in dorms and Chanukah caroling all across campus at: Penn, Maryland, NYU, Brandeis, and Columbia

Yea, this is gonna be nuts. As in amazing. As in, over 500 students celebrating Shabbat, many for the first time. And hundreds of students celebrating Chanukah in an intimate (a la "ner ish u'veito"), personal, meaningful, fun, memorable, and magical way.

I'll keep you all posted how it all goes... Be'ezrat Hashem this will be an amazing way to end the semester, as our breadth and depth continues to soar!

Much love! and much hope for a Chanukah full of pirsum ha'nes!

The Very First Thing, and How it All Began

Let me tell you how it all started at Penn. It was back when I was a sophomore, before there was any such thing as 'Heart to Heart' (nor 'Chazan Ish'). Chanukah was approaching, as were finals, and all the studying was starting to make me antsy. So my roommates and I, looking for some fun, decided that we would go on a singing expedition - Chanukah caroling in the Quad. The Quad is where most of the freshmen live, including a few religious freshmen who we knew. After a little research, we found out where a few of our freshmen friends lived and we set off. The talented singers that we are, we didn't need much practice ("I got high, you got melody and you got low") and we came to our first destination. We knocked on his door, and when he opened it, we broke into "Maoz Tzur" and our very own "We Wish You a Happy Chanukah". To our utter delight, he said he thoroughly enjoyed it and was very appreciative for a break in his studying. We then asked where the next religious person who we knew lived and he directed us down the hall. When we got to our next stop, the same thing happened, we sang the same songs, and the girl was equally pleased. Then, a girl from across the hall opened her door and stepped into the hallway. Shoot, we thought, we're singing too loud and disrupting people's studying. "Are you guys singing Hanukah songs?!" she exclaimed, "Can you sing some to me? I'm Jewish too!". Surprised, we turned to her and sang our songs again for her. She was ecstatic - "I love those songs! Thank you so much!" (it must have been our melodious and perfectly harmonious voices). Then she told us that we had to go to the end of the hall and sing to the girl who lived there - she was Jewish and she would love it. So we went to the end of the hall and performed again, garnering smiles and laughs from the Jewish girl who lived there and her Asian roommate, and the whole bunch of people who had gathered in the hallway to hear us too.

So we started making our way around the Quad - going from the room of someone we knew to the next room to which they directed us, stopping along the way for requests from Jews (presumably non-religious ones, as we didn't know them). Going down one hallway, these two big guys who were either in a frat or were soon going to be in one asked us to come into their room. We went inside and saw they had an iChat video screen open - one of them wanted us to sing our Chanukah songs for his girlfriend. After doing so, they took out a box of cookies - the other guys said that his mom had send them to him for Hanukah and he wanted to share them with us. "And don't worry", he added, "they're Kosher", showing us the symbol on the packaging.

I took but didn't end up eating the cookie, saving it (until Pesach) for the symbolic memories it evoked - how we spent one evening on the eve of finals spreading some good old Jewish holiday cheer among some freshmen. What was most surprising was how excited people were to hear us sing - and truth be told, we didn't sound all that great - and on their own volition. Not once did we have to trick someone or force someone into doing something Jewish, we just walked down the halls singing Chanukah songs and people came to us.

A few weeks earlier, with preparations for Chanukah on campus underway, the issue came up regarding Candle lighting. Lighting should be done in the residential arena, and as candles are forbidden in dorm rooms, the OCP always arranges for a table in the lobby of Rodin (where many Orthodox students, myself included reside) whereat residents could light candies. This had gone on for a few years and was a great idea, allowing for safe and halachik candle lighting and the chance for the many students to light in one unified, communal place - quite a beautiful sight. What it also did was allow the candles to be in a public place, fulfilling the aspect of pirsum hanes (publicizing the miracle) which we find by Chanukah candles. But what came to my attention (I'm still not even sure how I got involved in all this) was that this only happens at Rodin, leaving the other 10 college houses without organized candle lighting. So what normally happens? The handful of kids who actually care either light in their rooms on tin foil, or people light in Hillel, or people just don't light. What I've come to see is that if you don't give people the opportunity, they often won't make it for themselves.

So I was put in charge of setting up candle lighting stations at the other college houses. I started speaking with residents of these different dorm buildings, finding suitable places, arranging meetings with house deans and getting things organized. By the end, we (it mostly the other students, I just oversaw) had arranged for tables to be set up at 7 different college house. While this was started for the few religious students who lived in these houses, we figured there might be more people who would want to light, and we also arranged to put out extra menorahs and candles. There wasn't much advertising, save for some word of mouth, and one guy made a Facebook group. And then it was Chanukah.

The first night I went to one of the dorms, Hill house, to see how it would turn out. In the building of a few hundred residents, there were 3 religious kids who otherwise would've lit on their own, and probably a hundred or so Jews who... I dunno, maybe they would've lit in their rooms or in Hillel, but likely not. That night over 80 people came to light candles! Granted, Chabad also brought some latkes and some of their own crew to hype it up, but 80 people! And the rest of Chanukah, over 30 people lit candles at Hill house every night! Reports came back of 10, 20, 30 people at the other stations! I couldn't believe what was going on! A few other nights I went around with some friends and some instruments (guitar, saxophone, djambe) to provide some musical accompaniment to the arranged locations. One house, duBois, known for housing a lot of African-Americans, happened to have three Jewish students and one of them arranged for a candle lighting table by the entranceway. We showed up there, and put on a mini-concert in the lobby - the three students, as well as everyone passing by, loved it! Running in between college houses with instruments over our shoulders and smiles on our faces, we were having the best time. And best of all, we were sharing the joy and happiness of Chanukah with dozens of others!

Then finals came, I buckled down and studied, and soon it was all over. Then it was winter break, over which I thought a lot about these Chanukah experiences, about how people were so happy to get involved in something Jewish, and how rewarding it was to share it with others. After a lot of thinking and talking, I decided I had to do more of this, and I had to make this bigger. Back in school, during halftime of Super Bowl Sunday, I got together a bunch of 15 friends who had expressed similar interests and thoughts. We talked about these ideas and some potential projects - the first of which were 'kiddush in the Quad' and 'Shabbat meals'. People were excited, plans were laid, and the rest became history.