Editor’s note: A speaker at the event was concerned about their family’s safety if quoted and attributed in this piece, given that their sibling was taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7 and has not been released.
The Chronicle is committed to maintaining journalistic standards and credibility in our coverage. After speaking with the speaker featured in the article, The Chronicle has elected to grant anonymity to them. The Chronicle has confirmed the accuracy of the quotes published through our own recording of the event.
Over 150 attendees gathered on the Bryan Center Plaza to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah and honor the hostages remaining in Gaza as part of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
Hanukkah music in English and Hebrew music filled the air, while attendees ate traditional Hanukkah food, including potato latkes and sufganiyot. Duke’s Chabad chapter, which organized the event, also provided students with menorahs to light their own candles.
Chabad co-president Noyah Shebshaievitz, a sophomore, pointed to the significance of the celebration, drawing parallels “between the challenges we faced and the essence of this festival, a journey from darkness to light.”
This year’s first day of Hanukkah falls two months after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that killed over 1,200 people in southern Israel, according to the Israeli Defense Forces estimates. As of Thursday evening, Israeli retaliatory attacks have killed over 17,000 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry.
“Hanukkah teaches us the power of hope, resilience and a triumph of light over darkness,” Shebshaievitz said. “Our collective strength mirrors the resilience of magnitudes, illustrating that even in our most challenging times, you can find the courage to overcome and emerge stronger in the spirit of unity and resilience.”
The event began with a video produced by the organization Bring Them Home Now of a daughter whose parents were kidnapped in their car by Hamas militants during the Oct. 7 attack.
A temporary cease-fire that ended Dec. 1 prompted the release of 105 hostages taken by Hamas in exchange for 240 Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons. There are around 140 people who are still held captive in Gaza.
The first speaker, a sibling of one of the hostages still held captive by Hamas, spoke to the crowd about their family’s experiences on Oct. 7.
Despite hearing about the attacks on their kibbutz, the speaker thought their sibling and their sibling’s partner were safe after speaking with their nephew, who assured them that the pair were in their safe room.
“Now when I think about it, how naïve [was it] to think that [they] were safe,” the speaker said.
The sibling’s partner, who was later released from captivity on Nov. 26, told family members that the speaker’s sibling was still alive.
“I ask each of you to think about the hostages, to think about the humans suffering the unnecessary human violence, and let us all use our voices in any way that we can to bring the hostages back home safely,” the speaker said. “... Words just can't describe how horrible and painful it is for their families.”
Rom El-Hai, an Israeli survivor from the Oct. 7 Re’im music festival massacre where Hamas militants killed 364 civilians, spoke on behalf of an organization that brings survivors to speak on campuses and to Jewish communities.
El-Hai said that he was a “regular guy” who just liked to go to music festivals, like many others who were in attendance.
“I can tell you that the [music] festival was … a festival of darkness,” he said. “But here we now celebrate Hanukkah, it’s eight days of the festival of lights.”
Concluding the speakers’ remarks, Shebshaievitz called together the community to recite a prayer for those in captivity.
The two speakers then lit the shamash and first candles of the menorah in honor of the remaining hostages.
“May the glow of the Hanukkah candles symbolize our collective journey, illuminating our path from darkness to light and serving as a testament to the strength that resides within our Chabad at Duke family,” Shebshaievitz said.
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Abby Spiller is a Trinity sophomore and an editor-at-large of The Chronicle's 119th volume.