Celebrating Hanukkah in the UK

The Hanukkah menorah in Victoria Gardens, Brighton (©Dominic Alves on Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

By Ellie Buchdahl, 8 November 2015

It’s Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights! From the evening of 6 December until 14 December, Jewish people around the world light candles to celebrate a miracle from over 2,500 years ago: when an oil lamp dedicated to God stayed alight for eight days.

And by the light of those candles (on a special candlestick called a menorah), all kinds of celebrations take place – many involving fantastic Jewish food, music, dancing and games. Everyone is welcome, so this is a great chance to learn a bit about Jewish culture.

The UK’s Union of Jewish Students (UJS) brings together 64 Jewish Societies (J-Socs) on university and college campuses across the UK and Ireland, representing over 8,500 Jewish students. UJS is run by students, for students.

We asked UJS about the events and support on offer for Jewish students in the UK – and how they’ll be celebrating the Festival of Lights this year!

‘UJS will always be there for every Jewish student in the UK or Ireland; no matter where you are studying or your background.

‘If you ever want to know more about Jewish life on campus, accessing kosher food or accommodation or just want a chat, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.’

~ Ella Rose, UJS President

Light up the UK

J-Socs across the UK hold Hanukkah parties and celebrations each year – the perfect place for all students to try traditional food, games and have fun with friends.

Traditional Hanukkah foods are often fried, to commemorate the temple oil. Try latkes (potato pancakes) – or if you have a sweet tooth, bite into bimuelos (fritters) and sufganiyot (jammy doughnuts).

You might also get your hands on some chocolate gelt – an edible version of the coins traditionally given to children during the festival. At many Hanukkah parties, you can engage in a bit of childhood nostalgia by playing the traditional dreidel spinning top game.

Finally (if you’re not too full!) get on your dancing shoes. Traditional Jewish music is lively, fun and all about group dancing with friends!

©Jennifer Carole on Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

This year, many school, college and university students will already be on holiday during Hanukkah, but for those still on campus, there have been some great parties – at Birmingham, Bristol, Hertfordshire, Goldsmiths, Sheffield, Southampton and St Andrews, to name but a few. Many students also attended the Hanukkah in the Square celebrations in London’s Trafalgar Square (which includes live performances and free doughnuts!), and public menorah lighting ceremonies in other UK cities.

Many synagogues and other Jewish community groups also organise events; you can search online or have a browse through local social pages on Twitter and Facebook, or look at local bulletin boards to see if anything is taking place near you.

And remember – if your university or college doesn’t already have a J-Soc, you could always set one up yourself. Have a chat with your Student Union or contact UJS.

Student support

The UJS is cross-communal, which means it supports reform, orthodox, secular and religious Jewish students across the UK. The UJS and student J-Socs can help you get in touch with your local synagogue or Jewish community near you. For many international students, this is a great way to connect with people and get a real sense of family when you’re away from home.

UJS can also help you with access to kosher food and accommodation, and with any other concerns you might have while you’re living in the UK – or afterwards, when you want to stay in touch!

©Union of Jewish Students

Fill your calendar and get involved!

It’s not just about Hanukkah! Throughout the year, J-Socs organise fantastic events, parties and programmes. These range from Torah discussion groups and Hebrew lessons to dinners, balls, challah bread making classes and socials. Often, non-Jewish students are invited to join in to learn more about Jewish culture.

UJS also delivers campaigns to represent Jewish students’ interests; diverse and dynamic programmes for enriching Jewish life on campus; safe and vibrant spaces for J-Soc activities; and career networking opportunities. There are also national events, international trips, sports tournaments and training programmes.

A different focus of UJS is inter-faith activity, with campaigns encouraging conversation with people from all faiths about religion, society and politics. Visit ujs.org.uk for more information.

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