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MIT student blogger Sam M. '07

Tuesdays with Menorah, eek! by Sam M. '07

A young boy, a young girl, and life's greatest lesson.

Yo, some people had some questions on the last entry and I answered them in a comment. Be fruitful and check it out.

Another question you might have, probably if you’re Jewish, is about Hillel at MIT. Let me tell you, Hillel is very active at MIT. They wouldn’t stop writing, calling, and e-mailing me for my first year at MIT. It all started when I got a Hillel pin in with my admission envelope, with Hebrew letters that roughly translated into “M.I.T.” Then I got a dreidel and geld for Hanukkah and some kind of delicious Kosher jelly candy for passover, both stuffed into my dorm mailbox freshman year. Along the way, I’ve also gotten e-mails describing their kosher chili cookoffs, invitations to the sukkah they set up in Kresge Oval every year, and an apologetic e-mail from an abdicating president describing his inability to run Hillel any longer with his busy schedule.

Oh, I’m not Jewish.

My sophomore year they called me up on my dormitory phone and asked me if I would like to go to service for Rosh Hashanah with them. As politely as I could, I told them that although I had really appreciated their hospitality and everything over the past year, I really had no intention of ever being Jewish while I during my time at MIT and I’d rather they took me off their calling list from now on. They very nicely obliged.

Still, I received my all-time favorite e-mail from Hillel after this incident. In short, I was invited to a “Jew-au on Ice” in the middle of February. You’d think it would be hard to combine a Hawaiian-themed party with an indoor ice skating rink, but Hillel found a way. I don’t remember whether or not this was the same one where we were supposed to vote on slogans advertising a party thrown by Hillel, but I do remember the slogans that we were supposed to vote on:

“From the window… to the Western Wall!”
“Next beer in Jerusalem!”
“Let’s party like it’s 1948!”
“It’s getting hot in here… so immigrate [sic] to Israel with all your clothes!”

I, uh, hope I haven’t come off as insensitive thus far in the entry. Really, I can’t think of any student organization at MIT that works harder than Hillel to advertise their events. Actually, yes I can. But only one. So, if you’re looking at schools and the presence of Hillel on campus factors into your decision at all, rest assured that you’ll be set at MIT.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that I got to learn about Hanukkah this week and I’m very excited!

If memory serves me correctly, it was Tuesday night that I headed over to my beloved high school friend Shana’s house with no plans at all, really, in mind. We ended up watching The Princess Bride, which I’ve made reference to about a dozen times on this blog but had never actually seen until then. Let me say, it lived up to all the hype I have heard from every other person on the face of the Earth about it. Anyway, after the end of the movie, I learned that Shana’s family had not yet celebrated the third night of Hanukkah. So, I stood there thoughtfully while the family sang something beautiful and in Hebrew, watched their dog, Ruby, open her third-night-of-Hanukkah present, and then found out that I was going to be lighting the candles on one of their menorahs. Oh no! I’m afraid of fire!

Now, you’re surely asking, “Can you really be pyrophobic, Sam? Don’t you go to MIT? Don’t they set things on fire all the time there?” The answers are yes, yes and yes. In fact, my fear of fire was a major hindrance in science olympiad my junior year of high school. We took part in a polymer identification competition where you were supposed to identify the composition of some polymer (HDPE or PVC or something) by its thermal decomposition. While the instructions specifically said that students were NOT to burn the polymers on their own, apparently they were really busy at Dickinson that day, so they just threw down like 10 polymer samples and a cigarette lighter and told us to start identifying. Now, neither my partner Jacob nor I had ever used a lighter, and I was really afraid because your hand has to get really close to the flame, so I kind of told him how I thought it was done in theory and made him do it. Later he asked his mother to show him how to use a lighter. She refused.

But I digress. After the lighting of the candles, during which I barely avoided setting a placemat on fire, Shana’s Mom rewarded me with a duck-shaped bubble wand for my valor. Now, another thing I had never done was play dreidel, so we decided it was time to continue my education in Judaism, although neither Shana nor her sister really likes dreidel at all.


We started with this really big pile of cereal, and decided that since we had so many pieces, we’d ante 1/3 of our pile instead of 1 piece and give 1/10 of our pile on shin rather than one piece. The problem with playing this way is that if you base all your gambling ona fraction, the game can never possibly end. Though I tried to help out by eating the pot every time I got gimel, it was no use–after 40 minutes, we decided it was time for something completely different.


Or, well, not too much–I flipped through the classic “Hershel and the Hannukah Goblins” and learned about the goblin that loved pickles so much, he forgot to stop Hanukkah from occurring.

My education completed, we headed over to a used bookstore warehouse… which is totally a story for another entry. I then went home and perhaps cancelled out everything I had learned by eating a grilled ham and cheese sandwich made with the leftover Christmas ham.


But look how well Sam’s Mom chops up the ham into bite-size pieces, assembles with extra cheese for cohesiveness, and then grills to a perfect golden brown… how could I resist?

I’ll be in Dyke, VA for the next day or two. If I don’t see you, have a happy new year, and GET YOUR APPLICATIONS IN OR ELSE. Thanks for reading this year! It’s really been a blast blogging for the past year and I hope it continues to be so in the future. Remember, this blog is made possible by readers like you. Well, and Ben. Mostly by Ben. But you’re important too!

Coming soon: egg decorating, alligators, and hardcore baking.

8 responses to “Tuesdays with Menorah, eek!”

  1. Why would Hillel pursue you so actively? Have you some sort of Jewish-sounding last name? (no offense intended to anyone who might take offense)

  2. Got my application in yesterday. smile

    Thanks for blogging! It’s been a blast reading what you have to say about life at MIT, and I’ll continue to look forward to it throughout the new year.

  3. Jon says:

    wow, really? The hillel around hear is pretty much dead. I know the directer, and she’s a 1-person hillel organizer, running hillel for 5 colleges… then again, I dont care that much, cuz I’m most likely not gonna get involved with hillel. oh, and the princess bride is an amazing movie

  4. Sam says:

    Rhiannon — My last name is German and marginally Jewish-sounding. I guess it is probably moreso than say, Chang or Gupta or Behrashti. I used to think that it was because I put down “no religious affiliation” with my application or acceptance materials or financial aid materials (I forget which one), but I’ve heard that Hillel has been equally active in pursuing some of my friends who are active members of the Catholic community here, so… not really sure. In any case, it’s encouraging that they’re so active!

  5. Linda says:

    Reading what you have to say is great!

    You just reminded me of a question I had awhile ago.

    What’s the system at MIT for getting your snail-mail, and how soon after you get there do you know your post address?

  6. Sam says:

    Hey Linda — There are mailboxes in, I believe, the lobby of every dorm, so

    you just send letters and packages directly to your dorm and they’re usually sorted by

    workers there. There is a housing readjustment lottery four to seven days after the

    beginning of orientation, so you might have a temporary address for a week or two (if you

    get there early for a sport or pre-orientation program) and then a permanent one after

    you know your permanent room assignment.

  7. David says:

    your DUMP! Cheeze boy!

  8. Dave says: