- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 1999

The Jewish community lit the sixth candle of the menorah at sundown last night as part of Hanukkah, their eight-day celebration of religious freedom.

Jewish schoolchildren sung traditional songs in Hebrew as their parents enjoyed customary Hanukkah foods, such as sufganiot, or jelly doughnuts, and potato latkes, all fried in oil as part of the celebration.

Hanukkah commemorates the Jewish victory over the Syrians in the 2nd century B.C. It is also known as the Festival of Lights because of the menorah, which holds a candle for each day of the celebration and a center candle with which to light the others.

The religious freedom that Hanukkah celebrates was on display at Georgetown University as Jewish, Catholic and Protestant students stood guard through the night Tuesday, protecting an 8-foot menorah that had been desecrated over the weekend.

The menorah’s metal frame was bent and broken and the structure was toppled sometime over the weekend after the Hanukkah celebration began last Friday night.

The students said they will continue to guard the menorah, which stands in front of the school’s Intercultural Center, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. until Saturday, when the Hanukkah celebration ends.

“We feel that we’ve been violated,” said Steve Glickman, president of the school’s Jewish Student Association, yesterday. “This [school] is your home for four years and you feel that there is someone out there who doesn’t want to see you, who doesn’t want you here.”

This was the second time a menorah was vandalized at the Jesuit school. Last year, students say, an electrical cord of a menorah was cut, but no one was charged.

University officials said yesterday they are “vigorously” investigating the incident and are trying to confirm the number of students who have said they witnessed the vandalism.

Officials also are investigating the case of another menorah found lying on the ground at the Georgetown University Law Center on New Jersey Avenue. But officials said yesterday they believe no foul play was involved there.

The Rev. Leo J. O’Donovan, Georgetown University’s president, said he is shocked and saddened by the desecration and has praised students of different faiths for standing guard over the symbol of the Festival of Lights.

“This was a deplorable act of vandalism and is completely counter to every principle of community, respect and citizenship that we hold dear,” Father O’Donovan said. “I am heartened to see that students and faculty across the university have bonded together to show support for the Jewish community at Georgetown.”

Some 6,000 undergraduate students, of whom 700 are Jewish, attend the university, officials said.

Since the incident, different student groups, representing all faiths and races, have rallied to show support for the Jewish students.

The groups have taken turns standing guard at the menorah to deter further vandalism. And students at the school’s Law Center are planning to hold an event next month to show their support for Jewish students.

“We’re not going to tolerate this as a Jesuit university,” said Tim Staines, a student who stood guard at the menorah early yesterday morning.

Mr. Glickman said the show of support has raised the spirits of the Jewish students. “This show of solidarity shows that this is not something that’s going to bring down our community,” he said.

Meanwhile, the rest of the local Jewish community continued to celebrate Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Dedication.

Students at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital, the only Jewish day school in the District, delighted hundreds of parents and teachers Tuesday night at Adas Israel Congregation in Northwest by singing traditional Hanukkah songs and performing a play retelling the story of the holiday.

The Hanukkah celebration begins on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which falls during late November or December. It is one of the few holidays not associated with the Exodus.

“Hanukkah symbolizes freedom,” said Mitchell Eisen, a D.C. resident and father of three who attended the day school’s pageant Tuesday night. “It celebrates that we have the freedom of being who we want to be, and believing in what we want to believe.”

In 165 B.C., Judas Maccabaeus retook the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from the Syrian Greeks, cleansed it and rededicated it to God, by using only a small jar of olive oil to light the temple. The oil was enough to last one day, but, according to Jewish legend, the oil burned for eight days, thus the eight days of Hanukkah.

“Hanukkah is not only a celebration of a miracle,” said Rabbi Hayyim Kassorla, with the Magen David Beit Eliahu Sephardic Congregation in Bethesda, Md, “It’s a celebration of religious freedom.”

Religious services are held every evening during the celebration, after which families exchange gifts, some on each of the eight days.

Another tradition is playing dreidel, a four-sided top with a different Hebrew letter on each side, the first letter of each word in the phrase, “Ness Gadol Haya Sham,” or “a great miracle took place there.” Players win or lose depending on which letter lands upright.

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