Second Annual Chanukahfest a Glowing Success
Nearly 1,000 students crowded the Furst Gymnasium on Wednesday night, December 21 for Chanukahfest, the annual Chanukah party hosted by the undergraduate student councils. The event featured various game stations, a chanukah menu, free giveaways, and recurring lottery prize drawings.
Inside the gym, students had a variety of arcade-style games to choose from. Among the attractions were a giant foosball table for sixteen players, an air hockey table, a video game station, skeeball machines, basketball shooting games, and even a mini golf course.
Traditional holiday foods abounded on tables set up inside the gym and outside in the foyer. A latke bar offered four different varieties of the potato pancake. The creatively inclined could prepare their own sufganiyot (filled donuts) by injecting plain donuts with jelly, caramel, vanilla, or chocolate cream filling, topping off their snacks with sprinkles, chocolate chips, and other toppings. Hot chocolate, complete with the option for marshmallows, peppermint candy, cinnamon sticks, and whipped cream quenched the thirst of the parched-throated as did the apple cider and other soft drinks available.
Free goodies were also a mainstay of the winter classic. The first 750 students received free swag: a knitted scarf sporting the YU logo and school colors. Students could submit their names on tickets for a drawing that occurred every fifteen minutes. Lottery prizes included an Apple watch, restaurant gift cards, a TV, and the much-anticipated opportunity to pie Yeshiva Student Union President Jacob Herenstein in the face.
Positive reviews emanated from those who attended. Ilan Atri, a first-year student from California, appreciated that “there were a lot of options for fun things to do.”
“I particularly enjoyed playing Xbox and shooting on the mini basketball hoops,” he reflected.
Ariella Yomtobian, a junior studying psychology and business said she came because she needed a study break, and was pleased to find the event “pretty exciting.”
“I loved how they had a donut station where we were able to add our own fillings and toppings,” she said.
Among many of those who attended, the free swag seemed to be a favorite, as it was for Tzivya Beck, a senior studying political science. Jacob Ovadia, a sophomore studying accounting, agreed.
“The Chanukahfest was a great opportunity to celebrate the holiday and be a part of the YU community celebrating of it,” Mr. Ovadia said.
Community building was the main goal of the event, according to Lizzi Peled, president of the Stern College for Women Student Council. “The main goal of the event was to foster community on campus,” Ms. Peled said. “We thought it was important that YU students celebrate Chanukah together at an intercampus event in addition to the campus-specific Chanukah events we run.”
Hudy Rosenberg, president of the Torah Activities Council, the student council overseeing Torah-related activities on the Beren Campus, also saw community as Chanukahfest’s focus. She said that TAC helped plan and execute Chanukahfest even though it was devoid of any explicit Torah content because the value of community is of utmost importance to the council. “A huge goal of TAC this year is to increase the community feel on campus all week long – not just on Shabbat,” she explained. “Events like this are a great way for the entire student body to have the opportunity to come together as one university and one community.”
The event was an all-hands-on-deck effort by the student council officers. According to Mr. Herenstein, the idea for this year’s Chanukahfest, the second annual function of its kind, was conceived at the first meeting the student council members had at the student leaders training in late May 2016, and the details were sorted out by November.
“Every member of the various student councils pitched in to make Chanukahfest a success,” he said.
The seven undergraduate councils divided amongst themselves the specific roles that went into preparing the event. YSU and SCWSC managed the games and prizes; Sy Syms School of Business Student Councils of both campuses oversaw advertising; Yeshiva College Student Association was responsible for the swag; and it joined TAC and Student Organization of Yeshiva in overseeing food.
“Every member of our team did an excellent job in their designated area,” said Deena Fuchs, president of SSSBSC. “Seeing that together as one unit, we have the ability to create such an amazing event was definitely the best part of my whole Chanukahfest experience.” The advertising duties her council administered included “Sstuds, YStuds, posters, and all of the competitions on the Facebook event, as well as all posting to the Facebook event and designating others to post as well,” she explained.
Tzvi Levitin, president of YCSA, suggested distributing YU-themed scarves at the event, an idea that was clearly popular among the Chanukahfest-goers. He sought “to keep up with the winter theme established by last year's student leaders.” He may owe some of his design inspiration to J.K. Rowling: “we talked about making the scarves look collegiate (think: Hogwarts houses) and decided on this design after a bit of back and forth,” he said.
Chanukahfest, which made its debut last year, was a break from the tradition of hosting a concert as the Chanukah time student council event. This year’s Chanukahfest improved on the model from last year, switching from a carnival theme to an arcade theme.
“The concert was good for the extended YU community, but Chanukahfest is something that undergraduates specifically can enjoy,” Mr. Herenstein said. Ms. Peled added that the event organizers wanted students “to meet each other and hang out, which is something they could do at the Chanukahfest but not at the concert.”
Funding for the function came from the budgets of all seven student councils, which are in turn funded by the student activities fee every enrolled student pays. Student council presidents declined to say how much Chanukahfest cost, but Ms. Peled said that the expenditure was comparable to that of last year’s Chanukahfest.
Mr. Herenstein added that this type of event costs less than the concerts used to cost. “It’s about making more for less,” he said.
Despite the event’s high attendance and the overall satisfaction of its attendees, some students were not able to attend. Many were forced to skip out because of school work, including Yael Green, a junior majoring in finance and marketing, and Mendel Harlig, a senior studying economics.
“I had just finished a final and had to finish an essay that was due Wednesday at midnight,” Mr. Harlig said. “Additionally, it wasn't even Chanukah yet and I therefore felt no incentive to attend.”
Some students did not attend because they felt uncomfortable with the nature of Chanukahfest. “I only went to get a donut; I try not to go to mixed events that are especially for socializing,” shared Jechiel van Dijk, a sophomore considering the pre-engineering track.
Others could not stay for very long due to time conflicts, but still took advantage of the opportunity to claim their free gear. “Unfortunately, I could not stay longer because I had night seder, but I am glad to have gotten this sweet scarf,” commented Menachum Polack, a junior studying finance.
Jordana Maged, a junior studying psychology, said she could only attend briefly because she had a lot of work that night. She said that despite her short stay, she enjoyed the “great food, cool giveaways, and just a nice time out with friends.”
“You could really see the effort that the councils put into making the event successful,” she reflected.
For Beren Campus students, the time investment of attending was particularly high due to the time it takes to travel between campuses. Residents of Beren have been voicing complaints about the disproportionate number of university-wide events that are held on the men’s campus in Washington Heights.
Ms. Peled explained that Chanukahfest was held uptown because of space and time constraints. “The [Furst] Gym made the most sense as our location to host the event. Wilf has bigger spaces than Beren and there wouldn't have been enough room on the Beren campus to hold all of our games, food, and hundreds of students,” she said.
“There are more Wilf students who have night Seder than Beren students who had class that night,” Ms. Peled explained. “We wanted to make sure we could include as many students as possible.” The SCWSC president noted that five busses transported women from the Beren to the Wilf Campus for the event.
Looking forward, the student councils will once again join forces toward the end of the spring semester, when they will host the commemorations and celebrations of Yom HaShoah, Yom Hazikaron, and Yom Haatzmaut.
Picture credits: YU Flickr and D. Rubinstein