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Shalom! On Sunday November 28 at sun down, Hanukkah began. Every year, I look forward to the week-long celebration of the festival of lights. Growing up, I was lucky enough to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas because my Dad is Jewish and my Mom is Christian. I wanted to share a little bit about the Jewish culture I have grown up with and what it’s like now being away from home for the first time celebrating without my family. 

For those who may not be so familiar with Hanukkah, it is the celebration of freedom from oppression. Judah and the Maccabees fought to defend their religious beliefs and won. They took back a sacred temple and restored it. In the temple they found a small jar of oil that was said to only last them for one night of light, but a miracle happened and it lasted for eight nights. Therefore, Hanukkah is the festival of lights. 

For as long as I can remember, I have been proud to be half Jewish/half Christian. It has been interesting to take both religions and shape my own traditions of them in order to establish my own faith. I believe religion is more than just spiritual beliefs. Although I was raised with different beliefs, I feel linked to the culture and traditions. I have always felt more connected to the Jewish side and the beliefs they practice. When I was younger, Hanukkah meant 8 nights of presents and yummy Jewish food. Now, it still means the same, but I am on my own this year to celebrate the way I want. I have figured out my own ways to stay connected to the Jewish side of myself while at JMU.

A few weeks ago, I talked to one of my friends and we decided that we would celebrate together, though he isn’t Jewish. So we went to Target and picked out a Menorah, a dreidel, and Hanukkah gelt. We decided we would do 8 nights of small presents ($5 or less) and that we would choose a night where we could make some of my favorite Jewish food. It has been so exciting getting to show him the traditions I grew up with as he and I have gotten to know each  other better. I also connected with one of my roommates friends who is just like me, half Jewish! We got together and made Matzo Brei and Latkes. He and I shared what Jewish traditions we grew up with while cooking. It was so cool to pick his brain about what it means to be Jewish to him, as well as share what it means to me. 

Though I wasn’t able to spend Hanukkah with my family this year, I have been finding my own way through the friends I have at school and through myself.  My Mom knew I would be celebrating alone so she sent me to school with a few presents to open every night and some Hanukkah gelt for  my roommates and I. I have also been able to facetime my family while I light the candles and sing the Hanukkah candle blessings, which made it feel a little more like I was home. Though I wish I could have at least celebrated a few nights with them, I have found my own way in how I choose to celebrate Hanukkah and continue my practice of the Jewish traditions. I am really thankful for the supportive friends who celebrate with me, technology so I can still somewhat celebrate with my family, and for another Hanukkah!

Allie is a junior at James Madison University. She is a hospitality major with a minor in creative writing and a minor in business. She has a passion for poetry, coffee, makeup, anime, and shopping/fashion. In her free time she likes to play fortnite with her best friend and hang out with her frog.
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