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U of M community comes together for menorah lighting

Students, Jewish community light menorah at U of M
Students, Jewish community light menorah at U of M 02:15

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.   Antisemitism and Islamophobia have surged on college campuses following the Hamas attack on Israel and Israel's airstrikes on Gaza. 

This weekend, two leaders at the University of Pennsylvania stepped down amid backlash over the school's response to antisemitism on campus. The House Education and Workforce Committee is opening an investigation into Penn, along with MIT, Harvard, and other universities, to look at their response to antisemitism on campus.

Sunday evening at the University of Minnesota, regents joined students, faculty and community members for a Menorah lighting. 

"Tonight's candle lighting event is not just a celebration, it's a response to a collective yearning we've heard from our community to come together in Jewish joy," a speaker said to the crowd. 

The Menorah lighting brought together students, community members, faculty, and some university leaders. It was held outside of Northrop Auditorium. Organized by Minnesota Hillel and Chabad U of M, the choice of holding the lighting ceremony in a more public location was intentional. Organizers said it was important to spread light on campus at a time that feels dim for many Jewish students. 

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"For us in this moment, to be outwardly proud of being Jewish and to continue to light that light each year, to remember those times when we couldn't do so, is really important for Jewish people," Minnesota Hillel Executive Director Benjie Kaplan said.

A recent study by the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International found that 73% of Jewish college students across the United States have experienced or witnessed antisemitism so far this school year. 

In October, a sign showing photographs of the hostages held by Hamas was knocked down twice outside a Jewish student center on campus. 

"I feel uncomfortable on campus but not at all unsafe," student Alex Stewart said.

Stewart said celebrating Hanukkah offers a reprieve from the dark times. 

"This is an opportunity to get a break from all that and be with family," student Jack Akiva said.

"The message and story of Hanukkah could not have come at a better time, as we seek reasons to keep pushing forward with hope for a better tomorrow," Kaplan said.

The university's response to the Israel-Hamas War has not come without pushback. More than 700 faculty and staff members signed an open letter calling for an apology after interim President Jeff Ettinger issued a statement condemning the Hamas attack but did not acknowledge the suffering and death of Palestinians. The University has not issued another public statement since the initial one following the attack. 

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