Chicago Hillel Feud Scraps Traditional Food 'Fight'

Campus 'Latkes Vs. Hamentashen' Debate Is Victim of Squabble

No Fight Daniel Libenson, ousted University of Chicago Hillel chief, speaks at the college’s annual latke-vs.-hamentashen debate. The event was postponed amid turmoil over his firing.
No Fight Daniel Libenson, ousted University of Chicago Hillel chief, speaks at the college’s annual latke-vs.-hamentashen debate. The event was postponed amid turmoil over his firing.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published November 28, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Which are better, latkes or Hamantashen? This year, continued anger among the University of Chicago faculty over the Chicago Jewish federation’s takeover of the campus Hillel means that students there will have to wait a few extra months to find out.

For each of the past 66 years, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, professors at the University of Chicago have held a mock-serious debate in front of increasingly large crowds, weighing the merits of the two traditional Jewish holiday foods. Not so this semester. Professors who had committed to the event dropped out over the summer, citing anger over the federation’s firing of the Hillel director and the dismissal of the Hillel board.

“It’s just a stupidly brutal thing to do, and it certainly pissed me off,” said Ted Cohen, a University of Chicago philosophy professor and the Latke-Hamantash Debate’s longtime moderator, of the way the federation handled the Hillel director’s firing.

Cohen’s debate, scheduled originally for November 20, is a major event on the University of Chicago’s Jewish calendar. It filled a 1,000-seat venue on the University of Chicago campus last year, and has been covered by The New York Times and taken on the road for out-of-state showdowns. Cohen will moderate a Latke-Hamantash Debate this academic year, albeit months later, in February. And Hillel itself, which created the event and has sponsored it for more than half a century, won’t have a role.

The disruption around Latke-Hamantash comes as the campus Jewish organizations at the University of Chicago struggle to return to normalcy after the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago fired Hillel’s executive director, Daniel Libenson, last March and dismissed his board.

Since then, Libenson and his board have split off to form jU, a new campus organization that is operating in competition with Hillel. The Hillel, meanwhile, is on its second interim executive director. And the Jewish Student Assembly, a student group founded to defend student interests amid the turmoil, has “gone into hibernation,” according to its former leader.

“Students are remarkably resilient,” said Andrea Hoffman, the current interim executive director of the school’s Hillel.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.