By: Commentator Staff  | 

Student Councils to Bring Back Chanukah Concert, New Programming Planned

The Yeshiva University student councils will be bringing back the annual Chanukah concert this year after a five-year hiatus. The “GMF Capital and Yeshiva University Chanukah Concert,” slated for Dec. 23, will begin at 6:45 p.m. in the Lamport Auditorium on the Wilf Campus.

President Ari Berman will begin the event with opening remarks, which will be followed by a siyum (completion ceremony) on Shas by Sy Syms School of Business (SSSB) Dean Noam Wasserman. Singers Benny Friedman and Mordechai Shapiro will then perform with the Freilach Band.

After four years of “Chanukahfests,” the YU student councils are reintroducing the annual Chanukah concert in an effort to reach “people from a wide spectrum of YU,” according to Yeshiva Student Union (YSU) President Ariel Sacknovitz (SSSB ‘20). 

According to Sacknovitz, the event will be “geared towards everyone in YU, no matter which group you choose to identify with.” To this end, Sacknovitz said he convened small focus groups to identify possible performers. He then polled over 100 students from the four men’s Undergraduate Torah Studies (UTS) morning programs and from varying religious backgrounds on the Beren Campus to select performers that would appeal to a wide array of students. The results from the poll led him to select Shapiro and Friedman for the concert. 

“We are building the event in a way that appeals to everyone on campus,” Sacknovitz said. “There is separate men’s and women’s seating as well as general seating. The performers appeal to a wide range of people. The post-concert programming has a range of options that can be good for all of YU. All in all, we are excited.”

In an effort to make the concert more appealing to students, Sacknovitz decided not to charge current YU undergraduate students for admission. According to the concert website, tickets for YU faculty and administrators cost $15, tickets for alumni cost $20 and general tickets cost $36.

Multiple student council sources, who commented on the condition of anonymity, said the tab for this year’s concert, food and post-event programming is expected to amount to roughly $60,000. According to sources familiar with the matter, last year’s Chanukahfest around $25,000 — less than half of the reported cost of this year’s event.

YU’s Office of Student Life (OSL) and University Dean of Students Chaim Nissel did not respond to The Commentator’s inquiries regarding the event and its budget. Sacknovitz declined to comment on budgetary matters relating to donations from GMF Capital and other sponsors.

Sacknovitz noted that he is fundraising to help defray costs and that with ticket sales, he hopes to break even to what past Chanukahfests have cost. He further emphasized that making tickets free for students “will allow a greater number of students to be involved and enjoy Chanukah on campus.”

Nevertheless, the concert’s cost sparked concerns among some students. “I have no idea what the goal of the concert is, or why the institution is investing so much into it,” said one Yeshiva College (YC) sophomore, who commented on the condition of anonymity.

Following the Chanukah concert, there will be several activities for students. Leil iyun learning-based events will be held in men-only, women-only and coed formats. For the men- and women-only events, Young Israel of Woodmere Rosh Beis Medrash Rabbi Shay Schachter, RIETS Director of Semikha Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, SBMP Mashgiach Ruchani Rabbi Aharon Ciment and MYP Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Elchanan Adler will be giving shiurim. The coed option will be led by JSS Assistant Director Rabbi Jon Green and his wife, Debra. Latkes, donuts and drinks will be available for students in the Furman Dining Hall.

Previously, Chanukah concerts were a staple of the holiday’s programming in YU. However, in 2015, the decision was made to cease running concerts, due to their cost and the need to pass the tab onto students. Additionally, attendance was low at past Chanukah concerts, with many attendees coming from outside the student body. Student leaders decided to replace the concerts with “Chanukahfest” events, modeling the Welcome Back Bash and Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration. These events have been comprised of various arcade and carnival-like games designed to foster socialization among students, as well as refreshments.

SOY President Yoni Broth (SSSB ‘20) touted the unifying nature of the Chanukah programming slated for this year. “By having a concert, and a leil iyun, and a social reception, and Mordechai Shapiro and Benny Friedman, it is truly an event that can cater towards the entire university, much like the Yoms and Purim festivities do,” he said. “This concert is a chance for all of our students to unite as a whole, and enjoy not only the entertainment, but also enjoy our peers who attend this complex institution that we are a part of.”

Students are looking forward to this year’s event. “I've never been to a Benny Friedman or a Mordechai Shapiro concert before, so seeing them both in concert at the same time is going to be an amazing experience,” said Ben Freund (SSSB ‘20). “There’s so much going on and I'm so excited to go.”

Syms Student Council President Chaim Mahgerefteh (SSSB ‘20) credited Sacknovitz’s effort for planning and executing the event. “Ariel is a true leader for taking the initiative of bringing back the Chanukah Concert,” he said. “People should recognize how much time and effort he devoted to making the concert a success and making it a special evening for all students.”

“I am so grateful for every person who worked so diligently on this project,” added Torah Activities Council (TAC) President Bella Adler (SCW '20). “Jewish engagement comes in many shapes and sizes in our diverse community and I’m thrilled to support and help organize the concert. Music can be a uniting factor for many people and I hope we allow it to be just that.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the approximate cost of last year's Chanukahfest. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.

Photo Caption: The flyer for YU’s Chanukah concert
Photo Credit: Joseph Jacobs Advertising