Mark Haymond

Jewish Campus organizations raise money to benefit charities.

Spectators were packed shoulder to shoulder in the basement of the Cohn Jewish Student Center Wednesday night. People shouted the names of their favorite combatants as the four-minute battle began.

This was not Fight Club; this was Latkefest, a Hanukkah fundraiser put on by Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, which raised money for three charities. The combatants didn’t fight in a ring; they battled at a table.

The goal? To eat as many latkes — traditional Jewish pancakes made with potato and onion — as possible in four minutes. The winner got a $75 gift card to Walmart.

The contest was just part of a night of festivities which began with President Lester Lefton lighting the second Chanukiah to signify the second night of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah. Those in attendance, including Lefton, sang the traditional song that goes along with the lighting ceremony.

“It’s good to see a couple of hundred students here for the lighting,” Lefton said. “Jewish student life is alive and well at Kent State University.”

Chaya Kessler, director of Jewish Studies, asked that those lighting the candles pray for rain in Israel. The region is currently experiencing a devastating drought.

After the prayer came dinner. Lisa Rhodes, the kitchen manager at the Hillel center, worked alongside members of the fraternity to hand fry the latkes for the buffet-style meal, which was eaten before the contest.

“We have made over a thousand of them, if you count the vegan latkes, which have no milk or eggs,” Rhodes said as she flipped latkes in three industrial-sized frying pans. At one point, the buffet line was 50 people deep.

It seemed that everyone had a different method for eating the delicacy: Some used forks, some used fingers; some dipped in applesauce, some in sour cream.

In the middle of dinner, a tall, large man walked in with his game-face on. Around his hip hung a towel that read “Beat Kent.” From his pocket hung a Pittsburgh Steelers keychain. He did not get in the buffet line.

University of Akron football player Mitch Allen won the eating contest last year, and he was there to do it again.

When it was time for the main event, two tables were placed in the middle of the room. There was an audible hissing sound from the crowd when Taylor was introduced.

After four minutes of gluttonous consumption by the eight contestants, the winner was clear. With a total of eight latkes downed, Taylor was victorious. His winning strategy?

“I’m just a big eater,” Taylor said. “It was harder this year — I’m not going to lie — but it was fun.”

Taylor may have walked away $75 richer, but the big winners last night were the charities: Sharsharet, Save a Child’s Heart and Keshet. Several thousand dollars were raised for these organizations, which respectively battle breast cancer, childhood heart conditions and developmental disabilities.

Contact Mark Haymond at [email protected].