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

(page 2 of 3)

Last March, the Chicago federation fired Libenson and disbanded the Hillel’s advisory board after the board called for the federation to enter negotiations toward granting the Hillel independence. In an arrangement perhaps unique to Illinois, the Chicago federation owns the University of Chicago Hillel. The Hillel board threatened to resign if the federation declined to enter negotiations.

Upon dismissing the Hillel board and Libenson, the federation charged that Libenson and the board had mismanaged the Hillel’s finances.

Cohen, who has moderated the annual Latke-Hamantash Debate for each of the past 30 years, give or take, served on the Hillel board years ago and has friends who were among the group of Hillel board members that the federation dismissed. He got the job during the tenure of Rabbi Daniel Leifer, a former executive director of the Chicago Hillel. Leifer died in 1996. “Danny Leifer liked what I did, which was to make savage fun of everyone in the debate,” Cohen said. “I’ve done it ever since.”

Cohen said he was vacationing in Maine over the summer when he received two emails from faculty members saying they wouldn’t participate in the event’s 2012 iteration. The faculty members cited anger at the federation’s dismissal of Libenson and at Cohen’s own decision not to participate in the debate. Cohen told the Forward that his colleagues were misinformed: He hadn’t actually made up his mind at the time that he wouldn’t moderate, but their decisions helped sway him.

Cohen cited personal feelings among the reasons that he had initially objected to moderating this year’s debate. “I am loyal to my friends, and the federation in this really brutal way threw them all out, and they don’t want the Latke-Hamantash Debate to go on,” he said.

The tradition seemed doomed until earlier this semester, when a group of students from the Jewish fraternity AEPi asked Hillel to organize this year’s debate independently. Because of scheduling issues, the event could not be held until mid-February, but Cohen confirmed that he will participate.

Despite the loss of a marquee annual event, Hoffman said she was pleased that the students would be taking on the Latke-Hamantash event, presenting it as a move toward greater student involvement in driving programming. Hoffman also said that when the AEPi students approached her about taking on the event, “I couldn’t say yes fast enough.”


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!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • 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.