Recent anti-Semitic incidents such as swastikas spray painted on a Jewish professor's office at Columbia University and the Tree of Life synagogue shooting have many members of the Jewish community reflecting on what their religion and culture means to them this Hanukkah.
In addition to these recent high-profile incidents, according to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents increased 57 percent in the U.S. in 2017, with cases reported in every single state for the first time since 2010. Just last month, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent U.S. history occurred at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Eleven people were shot and killed during Shabbat Saturday morning services.
"Sadly, Jews have suffered a lot. As messed up as this is, when [Tree of Life synagogue shooting] happened, people were not surprised," Chase Nathan, a junior at the University of Southern California and president of USC Hillel, said.
This year, Hanukkah, known as the "festival of lights," starts Sunday December 2 and lasts eight days. Each day is celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting and special prayers. The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees after its desecration.
When asked what it means to be Jewish this holiday season, freshman Nathan Strauss wrote "caring for all."
On Wednesday, Hillel hosted a Silent Disco Hanukkah Party, with partial proceeds going to Tree of Life synagogue.
Junior Montana Ruderman believes these acts of hate only strengthen the Jewish community.
"I think that there is something really special about growing up in the Jewish community. We face so many struggles each day and each year that it only makes us stronger," Ruderman said. "With every tragedy that happens, we only become closer and more united within our community, especially around the holidays."
Despite violence toward the community, when asked what it means to be Jewish this holiday season, senior Gabrielle Pascal wrote, "Being proud to light the candles publicly."
The special menorah called a 'hanukkiyah,' which holds the candles, is often put in the front window of Jewish households so people passing can view the lights and remember the story of Hanukkah.
Similarly, Nathan says his favorite Hanukkah tradition is lighting the candles.
"We are not supposed to be shy about lighting the candles. We are supposed to light the candles and put them in a window where everybody is going to see them," Nathan said. "We are supposed to publicize the miracles. We are publicizing the miracle that the oil lasted for eight days and also that the Jews were able to win this war and survive and continue as a thriving nation."
In light of Tree of Life synagogue shooting and recent anti-Semitism, senior Julia Neisloss said that this holiday season being Jewish means "food, family and unity."
This week, USC Hillel will host Hanukkah Study Days with snacks, dreidel and menorah lighting every night at 5 pm.