President Christopher Eisgruber is reclining in the middle seat of a long table, looking as relaxed as I’ve seen him and wearing a mortarboard with an impressive tassle. Famed history professor Julian Zelizer is here too, sitting with famed improviser Adam Mastroianni ’14, so already the fame count in the room is too high for my personal comfort. It only gets worse as I pan across the room to see Professor Robbie George occupying (not Occupying) the fourth chair at the table. Next to him is Alex Moss ’14, and now I’m considering whether I should even bother applying to write for Triangle, because clearly to make your way up the ladder there you need very specific initials and physical height, and if you can’t make your way up the ladder then what’s even the point? The alternative in America is going down a chute but back in England it involves snakes.
We are here for the “CJL Annual Latke-Hamentashen Debate!” and there are quite a lot of us. I have never been to a debate in Whig before, but I would not be surprised if this were the most enthusiastic crowd the room has seen for quite a while. I feel a little embarrassed because before the publicity for this event began I had no concept of either latkes or hamentashen. Even now when I am sitting in this seat about to see their merits debated I have only the vaguest sense of what they are. But I want to learn!
President Eisgruber is moderating with moderate zeal, drawing some laughs from the audience with his academic cap and jokes about his recently discovered Jewish heritage. This is all well and good, Mr. President, but I’m here to be educated. Start the debate already! And so he does.
Professor Zelizer begins because Professor George miscalls the coin toss, another bad decision to add to his very long list of them. Zelizer is arguing for the latke and is passionate about his cause. He makes a lot of references to current events, in what is either a clever and entertaining use of metaphor or lazy politicizing of a non-partisan issue. He divides America into “Latke Lovers” and “Hamentashen Hubrists,” and I can’t help feeling that there could have been a better alliteration there. George then takes the podium and says some things about America, and I can’t really relate to his patriotism but a decent section of the audience seems to like it. Both professors give eloquent speeches and my mind is still very open about which way my vote will eventually go. For those goyim who, like me before this eye-opening debate, are not familiar with the traditional Jewish food items in question, here is what I now understand of them: latkes are fried potato pancakes (according to the debaters: “delicious” or “oily”) and hamentashen are triangular pastries with variable fruit fillings (“delightful” or “potentially containing prunes”). They both sound good! The professors sit back down and it is time for the student speakers to have their turn.
Latke defender Mastroianni goes first, with a nice PowerPoint presentation that comes close to slandering his opponents but elegantly weaves around that, like the Biblical serpent which is somehow brought into the debate on multiple occasions. He gets a very cheerful reception from the audience and it is well earned. Moss is next and uses the theme of humility to promote the hamentashen, appealing to our hearts and stomachs and eschewing the intellectualism of the latke team. I feel moved! It’s like he actually knows what we’re going through, you know? Perhaps the latke is a little out of touch with the people it’s supposed to feed, but apparently the same cannot be said of the humble hamentashen.
After his speech we are given the opportunity to question the debaters. One audience member tries to dig a little deeper into Zelizer’s psyche by asking if he’s happy with his life so far, but the answer is stubbornly academic. Let yourself go for a moment, Julian! Another question very subtly addresses George’s controversial views on gay marriage by asking of him whether he would support the wedding of two pastries. It seems like things might take a turn but they don’t.
The debate ends and everyone in the room is released to go downstairs and try some real-life latke and hamentashen. We have to vote before we do that, which means it all rests on the quality of the speeches (for me, not for everyone who has eaten the items before, which is most people). I won’t reveal my choice here because I was led to believe it was a private ballot and I care about the democratic process. Also I may not remember.
The food after the debate is tasty, and I enjoy both the latke and the hamentashen. Many people tell me that both items can be even more delicious than the samples provided, but I think they’re good anyway. Maybe the pastry to filling ratio in the hamentashen could be improved, and the latke must be a little oily because one leaps off my plate onto the floor and it definitely wasn’t my fault, but overall I am impressed. It is uplifting to see everybody coming together to eat after a debate clearly designed to divide us. This is the power of communal food, and it should not be underestimated.
I am already looking forward to next year’s event!