Students from the Jewish Student Union and the Hindu Students Association talked religion over latkes and raita Sunday.
The kitchen in the Duke Chapel basement filled with students flipping potato latkes and stirring together spices and yogurt to create raita. Twenty students gathered to celebrate the traditional Jewish and Hindu dishes and engage in a conversation about the influence of food on the two faiths.
“Last year, we had our first interfaith discussion moderated by Dean [Laurie] Patton, who describes herself as intellectually Hindu, but Jewish by faith,” said sophomore Vinay Nagaraj, the publicity chair for HSA. “This year, we wanted to continue the dialogue, but this time base it around the more specific topic of food.”
Latkes are fried potato cakes that are usually cooked close to Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights. Raita is a traditional Indian dish of yogurt and spices.
Patton was unable to attend the event, so her husband Shalom Goldman, a professor of religion and Middle Eastern studies, moderated the talk.
“This sort of event is important because it involves finding a common thread between the two religions, which can spark important dialogue,” said senior Rebekah Johnston, vice president of religious life for JSU.
During the discussion, students focused on traditions in their respective religions, generalizations that they face and the continued existence of religious intolerance in America.
“In the American imagination, smaller religions have a much larger presence than is the reality,” Goldman said, commenting on the “drama of being a minority” in a country where 78.4 percent of the populace identifies as Christian.
Students also discussed the intersection and potential conflict between traditional religious practices and modern society. They compared the decision to keep kosher with the choice to eat vegetarian, examining solutions that Jewish and Hindu students and their families have adopted. Several students noted that in their families, their mothers tend to emphasize the preservation of faith traditions.
Goldman, emphasized the history of partnership the religions share, noting that Hinduism is the one faith that has never had a conflict with Judaism.
Amol Yadav, fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering, said he participated in the dialogue due to an interest in how the faiths have worked together in the past.
Although most campus religious groups do numerous internal programs, freshman Ashima Chadha noted that interfaith events present a welcome contrast to clashes between religious groups around the world.
“There are so many conflicts revolving around religion, so it is nice to have an event where we can all come together and connect," she said.