By Danielle Chaloux

Bringing a new tradition to campus, prominent UConn faculty took part in the first latke versus hamantaschen debate on the Storrs campus. With origins at the University of Chicago in 1946, the event is a deliberately humorous debate that examines the relative merits of two icons of Jewish cuisine.

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Dean of Students Eleanor Daughtry gives a signed potato to UConn student Avi Schwimmer. (Photo by Danielle Chaloux)

The latke is a potato pancake fried in oil, and eaten to remember the rededication of the Second Temple after it was destroyed, a story told at Hanukkah. The hamentaschen, singular hamentasch, is a triangular cookie with a variety of possible fillings, eaten at Purim to commemorate the heroine Esther, and her success in thwarting a genocide of the Jewish people.

Dean of Students Eleanor Daughtery and Trustee Shari Cantor served as moderators of the event. Daughtery started off with some prop comedy, handing out gifts to student volunteers, “This is a potato signed by Susan Herbst, she’s the president. That’s all.”

Professor Lewis Gordon, from the Africana Studies and Philosophy departments, spoke first, arguing for the latke, elevating the humble potato to a whole new art form

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Professor Lewis Gordon argues for the latke during Monday’s debate. (Photo by Danielle Chaloux)

Gordon said, “Now think about the  potato, in fact you know you can make a nice wonderful latke, throw in the onions, use olive oil, by the way, don’t use canola, its not good for you. And uh you mix in some cilantro, cumin, I like to add some codfish. And if you bring all  this together, and you think about its diversity,you can create, now very important to learn this new verb, you can you can latkefy the world.”

Professor Gordon then pointed out the issue with the hamantasch, it’s distinctive shape.

“If you’ve studied your religious history,  all the way to the council of Nicea, and all of these things,you understand that its trinities, and anybody can tell you that trinities ain’t kosher,” Gordon said. 

Professor Jeffrey Shoulson of the department of Judaic Studies refuted Gordon’s argument, pointing to the holidays associated with the different foods as evidence.

Shoulson noted that, “A person is obligated, not suggested, not encouraged, obligated to celebrate, to party on Purim until she or he cannot tell the difference from the wicked Haman and the blessed Moredechai.” 

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Professor Jeffrey Shoulson shows a variety of hamentaschen. (Photo by Danielle Chaloux)

This sentiment was popular with the students in attendance, and Professor Shoulson suggested some untraditional versions of hamentaschen inspired by different cocktails, although he made sure to clarify his intentions.

“I embrace the opportunity to address you all as adults, who understand the rules and propriety of campus life and state laws,” said Shoulson.

University President Susan Herbst argued for the latke, supporting the diversity of the food as argued by Professor Gordon, while claiming that, “The best will always be simple, potatoes, oil, onions, egg and a little bit of salt and pepper.” 

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UConn President Susan Herbst defends the latke. (Photo by Danielle Chaloux)

President Herbst defined the latke, not as a greasy shapeless lump, but as a time honored tradition, lovingly crafted by Bubbe. According to Herbst, that’s not all the latke is capable of.  

Herbst said, “Now Bubbe would be very surprised that she holds the secret for feeding the world, solving the problem of starvation, in fact.”

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Professor Jeremy Pressman flicks a potato from the podium during Monday night’s debate. (Photo by Danielle Chaloux)

Last to speak, Professor Jeremy Pressman from the Department of Political Science, team hamentaschen, presented new research on the topic, and showed “historical” images with strategically placed hamentaschen. Clearly photoshopped images included Hillary Clinton’s 2014 visit to UConn,  Eleanor Roosevelt crafting the universal declaration of human rights, and the famous three-way handshake of Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat, and Menachem Begin. John F. Kennedy’s 1963 speech in Berlin was also a strong supporting argument.

Pressman elaborated, “Now some people have talked about a famous line he uttered in that speech “ich bin ein berliner”, some people said that way that he pronounced  berliner he actually pronounced it like a pastry. I’m here to tell you he was talking about a pastry that night. That pastry though, was the hamentaschen, ich bin ein hamentaschen.”

At the end of the night however, there was no clear winner. As the organizer of the event, sophomore Ryan Norton put it, “Nobody wins. This is an unwinnable debate, and so we will be back here next year to debate this issue further.”

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Danielle Chaloux
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