Jewish Soul Food: Latke Versus Hamentashen

This past Tuesday, the weather turned chilly, snow flurries fell to the Earth, and people huddled into the Jewish Religious Center to debate the virtues of two highly lauded foods found in the holiday pantries of Jews around the world: the latke and the hamentaschen.

The debate has a long, illustrious history. From its roots at the University of Chicago over fifty years ago, the question of the superiority of the latke or the hamentaschen has been a subject of tension between people across the country. Even though Williams is isolated, the college could never expect to remain neutral on the issue forever.

Hot Tomatoes catered the event, bringing record-breaking crowds into the JRC. The group was lively and spirited, many using the time before the debate to figure out what a latke and hamentaschen were.

Once the collective appetite had been satiated, we sat and watched as Professor Kaplan took the stage in his capacity as Master of Ceremonies. “I will wear many hats this evening,” Professor Kaplan said, doffing various thematically apropos head coverings for the different speakers.

Scott Lewis of the Williams Outing Club, Dennis Dickerson of the History Department, and Art History Professor Eva Grudin supported latkes, the traditional potato pancakes served around Chanukah. David Eppel of the Theater Department, Geoscience Professor Ronadh Cox, and Philosophy Professor Steven Gerrard supported the opposing side, affirming their collective belief in the superiority of the triangular, fruit filled pastry called hamentaschen, made and consumed in commemoration of the carnival-like Jewish holiday of Purim (which commenced at sundown the day after the debate).

The basic idea was for each Professor to support his or her side of the debate from the vantage of their particular field. This not only gave the speakers a safe ground from which to start, but also allowed them to make fun of the extreme elements in their areas of expertise. Hearing Professor Grudin expound upon the artistic virtues of the Latke, or Professor Cox explain geologic applications of the Hamentaschen was truly a treat.

“The Latke-Hamantaschen debate was another opportunity for faculty and staff to join with students in meaningful interaction,” said Professor Dickerson, who gave an impassioned discourse on the historical significance of the latke, which started off the evening’s festivities with a hail of laughter.

For Professor Cox and many others making their first soiree into the Jewish Religious Center, it was a chance to learn something about Jewish Culture. “ I really enjoyed myself at the debate,” said Cox, “I went in with quite a bit of trepidation, knowing so little (i.e., absolutely nothing!!) about the foodstuffs in question. But I was very honored to be asked to participate, even though the judging was ‘clearly’ rigged by those low-life latke eaters!!!.”

All in all, it was a joyous, humorous event, ranging from Professor Eppel’s dramatic monologue on the theatrical significance of hamentaschen to Professor Gerrard’s, somewhat long-winded, logical proof of the statement that hamentaschen are better than latkes. “The debate was great fun,” said Professor Grudin.

In the end, I sat there, watching Scott Lewis make Latkes with camping equipment, marveling at the friends and fun times we were having. The debate epitomized one of the purposes of the JRC: it brought many people from the college community together and shed a little light on some Jewish Culture. Students in attendance echoed this sentiment, adding that the debate was a fun time had by all. Lauren Siegel ’00 commented, “The debate was an amazing amalgamation of friendship, humor, and judaism.” Jessica Liebler ’01 also enjoyed the debate, explaining, “It was fantastic that the JRC was able to get such a big turnout for such a funny event. It was the embodiment of the spirit of humor.”

The critics agree—we all had a good laugh and a good time. Professor Gerrard summed it up best: “I have decided to quit my job and make it my life’s work to convince the masses of the superiority of hamentaschen to latke. Here’s another proof: Nothing is better than eternal happiness; hamentaschen are better than nothing; therefore hamentaschen are better than eternal happiness.” You can argue with that, but you cannot begin to argue with the smiling faces of over a hundred Williams College students.

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