“It’s very cold. Colder than it was in the Holy Land,” Summers joked.
As the flame fluttered, Sandel quipped, “We may need a miracle.”
Sandel spoke briefly about candles and light as symbols of illumination and education before he and Summers lit the first candle with Harvard Chabad House founder Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi.
Despite the cold, students milled about after the ceremony to take photos with Summers and Sandel and help themselves to free menorahs, chocolate coins, and dreidels handed out by Chabad. A few students broke into an impromptu chorus of a Hanukkah song.
In a tradition that began eight years ago, Summers and Sandel were the first in a series of Jewish professors who have been invited to light the menorah each day over the coming week, said Dana A. Stern ’09, vice president of Chabad and head of Harvard Students for Israel.
Summers said he was happy to participate in the tradition.
“I think this season of the year is special for every student, but especially for Jewish students,” he said.
Zarchi said that he saw the lighting of the menorah in the Yard as a sign of Harvard’s increasing openness and tolerance.
“I think it’s wonderful that students can walk through the Yard and see a symbol of Jewish identity,” he said. “It is a beautiful symbol of how Harvard has changed.”
The event marks the beginning of eight days of festivities organized by various Jewish groups on campus.
Menorah lightings will take place in front of Widener throughout the week, as well as in many of the houses and freshman dorms.
Harvard Hillel will hold a party in the Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub on Thursday, and Chabad House will sponsor a party at the Hong Kong restaurant on Saturday night.
Matthew R. Cohen ’11 said he was grateful for the holiday gatherings organized on campus.
“It’s always a little bit hard being away from home during the holiday,” he said. “But events like this can make it great.”