Posted Online: Dec. 05, 2009, 12:00 am

Augustana students embrace Jewish community with Hanukah hangers

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By Leon Lagerstam,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood
Margie Rogal is heading up a Jewish Student Organization at Augustana College affiliated with a national group known as Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. They are preparing for Chanukah, which starts at sundown Friday, Dec. 11. Students made the door hangers seen in the photo.
ROCK ISLAND -- Holiday decorations made by about 10 Jewish students at Augustana College conspicuously contained no red or green colors.

Israeli blue and white were obvious, though, as were menorah, dreidel, gelt and Star of David shapes, emblazoning handmade door hangers designed for Hanukah, which begins at sundown Friday and lasts eight days.

The 65 door hangers were made for Jewish shut-ins or residents of local nursing homes.

''They are really appreciative and happy to have them,'' said Sheryl Hassell-Bennett of the Jewish Federation of the Quad-Cities. ''They think it's nice to have something they can hang on their doors to signify their Judaism and love for this holiday. It brings them a lot of brightness and happiness.''

Making the door hangers filled members of Augustana's Jewish Student Organization with the same brightness and happiness, adviser Margi Rogal said.

The students shared a kindergarten-like enthusiasm for making the door hangers, and it was so fun and easy, they had plenty of time to relax, socialize and share their own stories of past Hanukahs, she said.

It also added to their celebration of learning that their 1-year-old group recently earned affiliation with the nationally renowned ''Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life,'' which Mrs. Rogal called ''surely an historic moment at Augustana College.''

Hillels are much more common at large universities, she said. But a Soref initiative created by the national organization allowed Augustana's group to apply as a ''Small and Mighty program for campuses just like ours,'' she said.

The program will provide guidance, financial assistance, online resources and a communication network to help Augustana's group grow and develop Jewish programs and learning opportunities in collaboration with others on and off campus, Mrs. Rogal said.

Making the door hangers was the group's first attempt to reaching out to the elderly segment of the off-campus community, she said.

Such projects put key Jewish concepts into practice, Mrs. Rogal said. ''Judaism is so geared to doing good deeds for your fellow Jews, an experience such as this gives these students a fuller appreciation of their religion.''

The camaraderie students enjoyed also tied into the way Hanukah usually is celebrated, Mrs. Rogal said

''Hanukah is typically a quiet family time.''

Non-Jews tend to think it's a bigger celebration because it occurs so close to Christmas, Mrs. Rogal said.

''But it's usually just a lovely time for families to join together to remember why it's significant and what it's significant for,'' she said. ''It's all about having faith in the magic of miracles.''

Hanuka, Hanukkah, Hanukka or Chanukah -- all acceptable spellings -- also is known as the ''festival of lights.''

It commemorates events dating back to 165 B.C.E., when Jewish armies led by Judah Maccabee and his four brothers celebrated recapturing and rededicating a holy temple in Jerusalem from the Syrians, whose king had ordered the Jews to reject their God and worship Greek gods instead.

The Maccabees took three years to drive the Syrians out, and when they re-lighted an eternal light in the temple, they had only enough oil to keep it going for a day. The oil, however, miraculously lasted eight days.

Augustana's newly affiliated Hillel organization gives students the feeling of being in a family, while being away from their families, Mrs. Rogal said. They will celebrate Hanukah in a low-key fashion, as is customary.

''We want to have a Menorah and light candles in the library, and say a Hebrew prayer Friday night, and plan to attend a latke (potato pancake) party at Temple Emanuel.'' she said.

The party, featuring games, crafts and dinner will be held at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 13 at Temple Emanuel, 1115 Mississippi Ave., Davenport. The Temple also will host a special service at 7 p.m. Friday.

Mrs. Rogal, a Temple Emanuel member, has taken the students to her synagogue, as well as to the University of Iowa's Hillel, and to her home, to give them as many opportunities she can ''to be proud of their heritage and share some beautiful traditions with each other.''

Mrs. Rogal converted to Judaism 30-plus years ago when she got married.

Her husband, Owen Rogal, teaches at St. Ambrose University, while Mrs. Rogal works as a reference librarian at Augustana, providing quite a diverse setting for their Jewish student friends.

The colleges have done good jobs of making people of all faiths welcome, Mrs. Rogal said.

Yet, in such mostly Christian environments with a historical Lutheran influence at Augustana and Catholic affiliation at Ambrose, Jewish students still need and cherish other Jews to talk to, she said.

''I remember the first time they met as a group was spent by them all saying what it's been like for them to be Jewish and how they had been treated,'' Mrs. Rogal said.

''It's like they have their own little family now,'' she said, and will celebrate the holiday of Hanukah that way.