Nov. 21, 1996
Vol. 16, No. 6

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    Pastries vs. potato pancakes: The laughter continues

    Latke-Hamentash Symposium reaches half-century mark With enough cheerful wit to warm the coldest November evening, the 50th annual Latke-Hamentash Symposium will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, in Mandel Hall.

    Following the Jewish practice during Purim of mimicking teachers and spoofing rabbinical tradition, distinguished panelists will draw upon their academic disciplines to extol the virtues of latkes (potato pancakes) or hamentashen (triangular pastries).

    To celebrate the symposium's first half-century, organizers are planning a serenade by the Jewish student a cappella group Shircago and an academic procession that will include past debate participants. Panelist Philip Bohlman, Associate Professor in Music, will attempt to lead the audience in song.

    "The symposium has become an amazing event," said Ted Cohen, Professor in Philosophy, who started participating in the debate as a panelist over 20 years ago, but who has since become the regular moderator. "It started off as something that could be held in Hillel's small living room, but when Rabbi Daniel Leifer took over 30 years ago, it was re-conceived and re-energized.

    "Last year we had several hundred people in Max Palevsky Cinema -- people were sitting in the aisles. That's why we are moving it to Mandel Hall for the first time. Danny turned it into an enormous institution, a citywide event." Leifer, Director of Hillel Foundation for 32 years, died earlier this year.

    In addition to Bohlman, panelists this year are Isaac Abella, Professor in Physics; Richard Epstein, the James Parker Hall distinguished Service Professor in the Law School; and Martha Roth, Professor in the Oriental Institute.

    The winner of the debate is decided by audience vote -- in fact, spectators are encouraged to show support for their preferred victual by coming to Mandel Hall dressed in a latke- or hamentash-related costume. The debate is followed by a reception at which latkes and hamentashen will be served.

    Cohen noted that when the Latke-Hamentash symposium started, there must have been an element of daring for those involved. "When this started 50 years ago, it was just after World War II. It was a real risk to have such a public display of Jewishness. It's much different today."

    "This is a chance to let loose some whimsical energy," Cohen said.

    The symposium is free and open to the public. The fee for the post-debate feast is $3. For more information, call the Newberger Hillel Center at 752-1127.