Saturday, November 14, 2015

Kugels all the way down

We had the annual faculty dinner of my little program tonight. "Welcome to Kugelfest 2015!" our host K wrote. She also furnishes the noodle kugel which gives the occasion its name, and serves it each Fall, after the same delicious Moroccan lentil soup. Many people who've taught in the program as adjuncts have joined our core group over the years, and it's always been lots of fun.

As we sat down to our commensal feast tonight, the Kugelfest tradition was explained to a first time participant, an Islamist. But what was this tradition? I remembered that K had made kugel one year, and that the next year it was kugel - of course! I recall thinking that this happened rather quickly; were we really at of course already? But it stuck, and Kugelfest it has been ever since. The power of ritual!

In recent years, the emergence of the Kugelfest ritual has been duly mentioned but not questioned, the name making it clear that kugel had always been the symbol of our shared life. This time one of our emeritus members was there after a period of years, however, and she wondered: had there not been a pre-kugel gathering? The historian of early Christianity speaks, I thought! Further religious studies questions arose, too. People remembered an unbroken annual tradition interrupted only last year (when my colleague M and I were abroad) but I was pretty sure there had been another missed year. The power of ritual! Have I mentioned that K is a specialist in liturgy?

Kugelfest it is and was meant to be, and it's kugels all the way down!

Checking my diary on returning home I find that my emeritus colleague is, of course, right. Indeed, the tradition took some time to come together. In Fall of 2002, when I had just arrived at Lang, I had people over to my place for wine and cheese. The first thing I recorded as a Religious Studies Faculty Dinner happened in the Spring of 2004, at K's place, and at it a kugel was indeed prepared. (It was my first kugel.) We met next a year and a half later, with no mention of kugel. Then in February 2008 there's record of the "kugel dinner," and in November of that same year, a first mention of a Kugelfest. Kugelfests follow in late Fall of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.

There may be other records, and more reliable, but six out of the last eight years we met in the Fall around the kugel and under its banner. That seems adequate to me. (I only wish I liked kugel better...!)

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