By: Benjamin Koslowe  | 

Chanukah Fest 5776

This December 8, the third night of Chanukah 5776, YU’s first-ever “Chanukah Fest” will take place in YU’s Max Stern Athletic Center. According to Noam Safier, president of YSU, it “will be complete with real games, great food, music, and what should be an amazing performance by two acrobats.” Josh Nagel, president of YCSA, said the event’s idea “is to create a space where students can hang out, meet new people, and have an enjoyable Chanukah.”

Ms. Aliza J Abrams Honig, Director of the Office of Student Life and Jewish Service Learning on Beren Campus, suggested to “think the energy of Yom Ha'atzmaut, but with a Chanukah twist. We're looking forward to a large Chanukah party, a carnival full of activities, fun foods, surprise performances, and swag!”

Veteran students and faculty will recall that in years prior, the Chanukah event has been a concert. This tradition, which goes back many years, has recently brought performances by Avraham Fried, the Maccabeats, Dedi, Matisyahu, the Moshav Band, Shwekey, Judah Blue, Mordechai Ben David, Edon Pinchot, Shalsheles, Nissim Black, Shlock Rock, Benny Freidman, Yehuda!, and Alex Clare. This annual concert, performed in Lamport Auditorium, was open to all YU students and faculty, as well as the broader Jewish community. “People who attended the concerts loved them and they are a long standing tradition,” noted Nagel. “This year though, we were willing to take a risk, end the tradition of the concert, and try something new. It seemed to us that the time of the concert had ended. The Welcome Back Bash and Yom Ha’atzmaut Celebration were two big examples that we wanted to model off of. Hence, our carnival idea, to spend the budget reserved on the concert on something that we know appeals more to students.”

Shai Berman, last year’s YCSA president, along with former TAC president Amanda Esraelian, worked hard for two months preparing the concert and promoting it to the undergraduate and broader communities. “We learned what we had suspected all along,” told Berman. “YU students, on the whole, are simply not interested in attending a Jewish music concert during Chanukah in YU, no matter how low the price is, and no matter who is playing. Gone are the days of Avraham Fried, Dedi, and Mordechai Ben David, when Jewish singers could garner very large and enthusiastic following from YU college students. Even when it comes to the most successful concert during my time in YU, in 2012, when Judah Blue, Edon, and Shalsheles performed in front of an almost sold out auditorium, that concert owed its success more to the high number of families from the community and the mass of screaming high school girls excited to catch a glimpse of Edon, than it did to the YU students who came.” Berman did firmly grant that the concerts themselves were fantastic. “However,” he qualified, “as awesome as the concert was, and as much as my friends and I enjoyed it, I, and many other members of student government, were left wondering if [last year’s] concert, which attracted only around 400 YU students (and that's a generous estimate), was really worth all the time and money that we had invested in it.”

Adam Zimilover, president of YCSA the year before Berman, expressed similar sentiments. Zimilover, who was involved in planning two Chanukah concerts, “felt that the concert, while enjoyable for many students, was not the best use of the incredible time and resources (financial, hours of work that could be spent planning other events, etc.) that it required. The concert cost tens of thousands of dollars and required hundreds of hours of work. In order to keep ticket prices reasonable, it was inevitably a big financial loss for the councils as well.” Zimilover as well noted the turnout issue. “The majority of attendees,” he said, “were not even YU students, so essentially we were using a large portion of our budget to fund an event that wasn't even primarily for the YU student body. I definitely feel that there can be much better uses of the student council's budget and resources that will appeal to a larger portion of the students.”

Some students will inevitably express doubt or disappointment about the change in venue. “I was very much looking forward to this year’s Chanukah concert,” described Akiva Schiff, currently in his first semester in YU. “I remember several concerts while I was a student in MTA. There was great anticipation in the MTA hallways hearing the bands practice the day-of, and the concert itself was always exciting and uplifting. It was all around a great Chanukah experience.” Akiva Marder, currently in his second year at YU, said that he “loved last year's Chanukah concert! It was a lot of fun and a really nice way for both campuses to come together in celebration.” Marder added that “initially I was really upset when I heard there was going to be no concert this year but I'm sure whatever is being planned instead will be just as, if not more, amazing.”

Those in charge of planning and advertising likewise maintain that the new Chanukah Fest will be a success. Rachel Rolnick, this year’s SCWSC president, emphasized the goal of creating a unified campus feel. “There will be a lot going on,” she described, “a great way to get the YU community together to celebrate. If you're a fan of the ‘Yoms’ on campus, that's the sort of feel we are trying to achieve – both campuses coming together for one big celebratory event, the Chanukah Fest.” Natan Szegedi, last year’s YSU president, similarly senses that this year’s event will be one that is “more interactive and allows for more socializing (as far as I've heard). I think that is also a great idea (and probably less straining on the student budget) and I'm sure it will be a wonderful program as well.” And Safier as well is optimistic that “the freedom that this style of event provides will be warmly embraced by the student body.”

Of course, “Chanukah Fest is an experiment this year,” pointed out Nagel, “to try use our money more wisely and appeal to more students. If it doesn’t work, they can go back to a concert next year. If it does work, then Chanukah on campus will have a fresh feel to it for more students.”