The Illini Chabad menorah at the University of Illinois has been vandalized four times over the course of two years. Through the funding, and active participation of the U of I community, the creation of a avant-garde new campus menorah is reaching completion.
The wider community’s involvement has become a crucial piece of the undertaking. This potent willingness of the people to lend a hand in assuring the religious structure stands tall and sturdy, has become something the Chabad house is proud of.
Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, co-director of Illini Chabad – which services the Jewish community at the University of Illinois & Champaign-Urbana – has united with Professors Benjamin Bross and John Stallmyer, instructors at the School of Architecture, to collaborate on a creative design for the menorah.
During daylight hours, a massive “I,” symbolizing student pride at the University of Illinois, becomes visible. The design has become an attempt to converge two kinds of pride: school spirit, layered with the Jewish pride. By night, the 9-foot structure is illuminated with LED lights.
The aim of Benjamin Bross’ design is to be able to “see one element through the other.”
“You see the ‘I’ through the menorah and the menorah through the ‘I’ from wherever you are,” Bross said. The lights that are wired into the structure represent Chanukah, the holiday of lights. Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel of Illini Chabad explains that it’s “a Menorah gives light, but this menorah will be made of lights.”
Benjamin Bross described the Alma mater, “a sculpture that is located on the northwest side of campus.” The menorah will stand to face the university’s staple monument, “so that it is in conversation with the Alma Mater.”
The construction of this menorah is also a response to the vandalizing of past Illini Chabad menorahs. “I want kids to be proud like I am of being Jewish,” Benjamin Bross said. The sturdy design will symbolize “the timeless nature of things,” Bross explained.
The campus menorah project has been in the works for years. “People want this to happen,” Dovid Tiechtel said.
While concepting what the final structure would look like, Tiechtel said he wanted the menorah to be “by the people and for the people.” To capture a sense of university pride, it was important to involve students in every step of the design process. “A lot of this design came from the opinions of students,” Tiechtel said.
With this creative design plan, the Illini Chabad at is receiving international attention, as “it’s the only menorah that is built like this – one of a kind, something the world has not seen.”
“This miracle Menorah will shine light on the campus for many years to come,” said Rabbi Tiechtel. “All are invited to stand together in rededicate the menorah as we all rededicate ourselves to give light and goodness”
The Menorah will be completed before Chanuakh and will be kindled for the first time at a large public lighting ceremony on Wednesday, December 13 at 5 PM.