Festivals of Light

As the holiday season approaches, many of our students on campus use these festive times to build relationships with other communities. The holidays are a special time for friends and family to come together, and the same rings true for students and their peers. One staple of our holiday programming is the annual Hanukkah-Diwali Dinner.

Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights which is celebrated every year in autumn (in the Northern Hemisphere) and in the spring (in the Southern Hemisphere). The holiday celebrates the symbolic victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.

This event has had a tremendous impact in bringing the Jewish and Indian communities together, while highlighting the similarities in culture and values around these important holidays. 

“The Hanukkah-Diwali Dinner is a tradition at UT Austin that I’ve been proud to be a part of it for the past two years. It successfully combines the Desi and Jewish culture in one event, and brings people who never intertwine together. I have been able to meet multiple people of Jewish background who I’m still in contact with to this day. I’ve been able to listen and learn about a country I’ve always been curious about, and even received recommendations about what to do on my upcoming Israel Uncovered trip. The Indian Jewish comedian was entertaining and mixed in well for the audience with his desi-Jewish background. Afterward, I was fortunate to have an hour to talk to him personally. He talked about running his own comedy club, running a major comedy festival, advice about life in general, and working with likeminded artists such as Russell Peters and Hasan Minaj. I’m glad to be able to be part of such an amazing event”
— Kaustubh Madiraju, Indian Cultural Association

On Thursday, November 30th Texas Hillel, Texans for Israel, and The David Project hosted their 3rd annual Hanukkah-Diwali Dinner with the Indian Cultural Association and the Hindu Student Association at the University of Texas at Austin. Every year this event brings hundreds of Jewish, Hindu and Indian students together to celebrate the common festival of lights and learn about the Indian-Israeli relationship. This year 180 students participated in this program which featured special guest Mahatma Moses, the world’s only Indian Jewish standup comedian.

“Not only does Hanukkah Diwali Dinner celebrates two major religious events, it is a festival that brings two different communities together. Through Hanukkah Diwali, I’ve been able to make multiple friends within the Jewish community, learn about their culture, and got the amazing opportunity to visit Israel!
— Monica Gupta, Hindu Students Association and Israel Uncovered Alumna
“I loved attending the Hanukkah Diwali Festival of Lights event! I learned so much about the traditions and history of Diwali from different students at my table and felt so grateful that I was able to share the story of Hanukkah and meaning behind playing dreidel! The night was full of laughter and valuable discussions! The comedian at the event was able to relate to everyone there and we all left the program on such an enthusiastic and positive note. We are lucky to have such a strong and positive alliance with a phenomenal community on campus.”
— Ellee Sinykin, David Project Intern at UT Austin

The annual Hanukkah Diwali Dinner at UT Austin began in 2014 when David Project intern Tamar Solomon lead this initiative after attending the Relationship Building Institute and learning about the Indian-American community in Boston.

The Hanukkah-Diwali Dinner was also hosted for the first time at The University of Cincinnati. David Project Interns and Cincinnati Hillel coordinated the event with SASA (South Asian Student Association) in a night filled with shared traditions, cultures, and values. The event was incredibly successful in its first year, as students from both communities attended in what they hope to become an annual event. 

The Diwali Hanukkah program was one of the most successful events we’ve had here on campus. From eating fried latkes to creating Rangoli masterpieces, everyone was able to get a taste of each other’s traditions from this Festival of Lights mashup. This was the first time the Southern Asian and Jewish community had come together at the University of Cincinnati and it not only educated both communities about each other’s cultures, but it created new friendships along the way.
— Ryan Kun, David Project intern at University of Cincinnati

As we wrap up our work for this semester and head towards the holidays, we're reminded of what this time of year means to so many communities. We're so proud of these incredible students who see the holiday season as a way to bring the campus community together and create lasting relationships.