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Great Latke-Hamantash Debate set for Sunday

Latkes involve frying mounds of shredded potatoes, grated onions, flour, matzah meal, baking powder, eggs, salt and pepper in hot oil.
Latkes involve frying mounds of shredded potatoes, grated onions, flour, matzah meal, baking powder, eggs, salt and pepper in hot oil.

It might not go down as one of great debates in U.S. history: Lincoln vs. Douglas, Kennedy vs. Nixon, or Buckley vs. Vidal.

But, it’s going to be a lot more fun and definitely tastier. It’s the Great Latke-Hamantash Debate set for Sunday at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park.

There will be samples and plenty of humor, but the origins of the “Great Debate” couldn’t be more serious.

“This event originated in 1946 at the University of Chicago’s Hillel House when Jewish professors tapped into their cultural identity in a light-hearted, creative and humorous way with their Jewish students to counter the isolation and fear the Jewish academic world experienced after World War II,” said Melanie Allmayer, who co-chairs the event.

From that beginning, the Great Debate has become a tradition on college campuses, synagogues, Jewish community centers and Jewish federations around the country, Allmayer said. This is the third year of the Great Debate at the JCC.

“It is my goal to share an afternoon of Jewish comedy and fun, two Jewish culinary delicacies: the latke (pronounced laht-kah) and the hamantash (pronounced hah-men-tash) for sampling and some of our rich Jewish tradition to the public, especially amid depressing events and fear of the unknown,” Allmayer said.

Ruth Biggus, who handles public relations for the JCC, said latkes involve frying mounds of shredded potatoes, grated onions, flour, matzah meal, baking powder, eggs, salt and pepper in hot oil in a skillet or on a griddle.

“The word ‘latke’ is derived from the Yiddish word meaning ‘patch,’ ” she said.

Latkes traditionally are eaten during the eight days of Hanukkah, which starts at sundown Sunday.

The hamantash is a fruit or poppy seed filled, triangular pastry or cookie traditionally eaten during the festival of Purim, which begins on March 23 next year.

The festival celebrates the Jewish community’s victory over collective destruction in ancient Persia. The word hamantash is a combination of Haman, the name of the evil Persian prime minister, and tash, which means pouch or pocket; the triangular shape of the cookie represents the defeated enemy’s pockets, hat or ears.

“Both holidays marked the Jewish people’s continued fight for religious freedom,” Biggus said.

Allmayer said the Great Debate will be fun and funny.

“Debaters are encouraged to wear costumes, bring props and use audio visual equipment,” she said. “The audience will have the opportunity to ask the debaters questions after their presentations and rebuttal and there will be an audience vote.

“A final decision will be rendered by a ‘rabbinical court’ of four local rabbis from different synagogues based on their collaborative, light-hearted evaluation and presentation of the strengths and weaknesses of Team Latke and Team Hamantash.”

So, what will it be, latke and Hanukkah or hamantash and Purim? In the end, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is having fun while shining light on some very serious subjects.

“As my aunt had said, ‘Jews have always been able to use humor to lighten the load,’ ” Allmayer said. “Jewish humor is not silly, but it is absurd absurdity. It is the opposite of deep seriousness. In Jewish thought absurdity and humor are particularly an antidote to seriousness. It could only happen at a place that is deeply serious.”

Allmayer and everyone else involved with the Great Latke-Hamantash Debate said the ultimate goal is to raise cultural awareness, along with culinary craft and food for the local Jewish Family Services Food pantry.

The Great Debate will be from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at The White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center, 5801 W. 115th St., Overland Park.

The cost is $5 per person plus a canned good that will be donated to the food pantry. Children 12 and under are admitted free. For more information, press here.

Perhaps best of all, there will be lots and lots of free samples available to the public. My answer to the question of latkes or hamantashen? Yes, please!

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.

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