JMJew’s Chabad introduced a giant menorah as a part of the university’s holiday celebrations in 2015 on the Madison Union patio. Five lightings later, the menorah was relocated to Warner Commons beside D-Hall, following requests from JMU’s Jewish community according to Vice President for Student Affairs Tim Miller.
Last year, Miller attended the annual menorah lighting with Chabad and met Rabbi Mordy Leimdorfer, co-director of the Jewish organization. Leimdorfer told Miller that several students in the club expressed that the menorah should be in a more “prominent” location. Miller said this was also discussed between Jewish faculty, staff and President Jonathan Alger, who hosted several gatherings of different cultural groups of JMU’s faculty and staff last year.
Miller worked with staff and university unions over several months to identify a new location for the menorah. Once all the logistics were worked out, he offered the Warner Commons to Chabad, and the organization accepted.
“It’s really about what the community asks for,” Miller said. “For me, I want every student to look around this campus and find their place, their people and their home within JMU.”
Senior health sciences major Carly Finneran has been on the Chabad student board for three years and was excited to see the relocation of the menorah. She said she hopes the visibility of the menorah will encourage those outside the Jewish community to celebrate and become involved in their own traditions.
“We just wanted the menorah to be more included in the holiday spirit of JMU,” Finneran said. “There are so many religions and cultures on any college campus and I feel like if there’s not a symbol or identification that that culture is present, those students may feel like they’re isolated.”
The menorah’s change in location was noticed by senior political science major Alex Feldman, however he said he wishes it could be in front of Wilson in a more central spot. He proposed the possibility of having it next to the Christmas tree on the quad or switching the locations of the tree and the menorah every year. Feldman said that it’s necessary for universities to be inclusive of different holidays because people need to be aware of different cultures and traditions.
“You can’t just simply allow one festivity to take control,” Feldman said. “You have issues with anti-Semitism here in Harrisonburg — I’ve dealt with it personally.”
Having moved around a lot in his lifetime, Feldman has experienced anti-Semitism in “different doses” for several years. He had a blatant encounter with an anti-Semite at a video game store in 2018 and assumes that others may hold the same beliefs. Feldman hopes that the menorah can help eradicate these kinds of beliefs by providing exposure to Judaism in the community.
Miller said his ultimate goal is to help students feel that they belong at JMU all the time, not just during the holiday season. If other students came forward with other celebrations or suggestions, Miller said he would honor their desires to the best of his ability.
“I feel like this location is a great location to have it so everyone can see that Judaism is present on JMU’s campus,” Finneran said. “I just think it’s really cool to see how everyone can join with their different religions and backgrounds but all celebrate the holiday season together.”
Contact Kamryn Koch at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.