By Maya Katz
With the festival of Purim just around the corner, this year marks the long-awaited return of Not Your Bubbe’s Hamantaschen, a hamantaschen bake done by the students at the Bayit — Tufts’ Jewish Culture House — after a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Not Your Bubbe’s was officially closed for the whole year to be safe,” Jacob Shaw, a senior, said. “Now that things are safe enough to be able to do this again, we are back up and running and really excited to be doing it.”
Using Shaw’s family recipes, the students at the Bayit will prepare hamantaschen in honor of Purim. Hamantaschen are paste-filled cookies that are enjoyed during Purim, a holiday celebrating when Jewish people were saved from attempted genocide in ancient Persia. Hamantaschen are often included in gift baskets that are given out during Purim called ‘mishloach manot’’ or the ‘sending of portions.’
While hamantaschen are traditionally made with poppyseed or fruit fillings, Not Your Bubbe’s Hamantaschen hamantaschen come in a variety of unique flavors. Their website’s menu includes lemon lavender, strawberry pistachio and bananas foster.
“Our main goal here is to make people happy. That’s why we do this,” Shaw said.
While the hamantaschen are prepared using Shaw’s family recipes, the focus of this project is on the collective of students living at the Bayit.
“It is a Jewish Culture House activity, and it’s one that serves the broader community,” Shaw said.
Founded in 2020, Not Your Bubbe’s Hamantaschen is a project at the Bayit that prepares and sells hamantaschen cookies with the goal of donating funds to different charities. After covering the costs of the bake, the remaining proceeds are donated to a charity that relates to the specific hamantaschen flavor, according to Shaw.
“Apple hamantaschen go towards teachers, … lemon lavender to The Trevor Project and then salted caramel for ocean cleanup,” Shaw said.
While their menu includes 18 different flavors, Not Your Bubbe’s Hamantaschen is open to expanding their selection with the help of new suggestions. With their flavor contest, anyone can submit a flavor suggestion to Not Your Bubbe’s Hamantaschen. The winner of this contest will get their flavor added to the menu the following year as well as a free box of half a dozen hamantaschen.
“Our goal here is twofold. One, to make people’s day with the most delicious cookies ever,” Shaw said. “Two, to raise as much money as we can to give to the charities that we support.”
This year, these hamantaschen can be preordered through their website until March 4 at sunset and will be available for pickup at the Bayit at 98 Packard Ave and for delivery. Thanks to their popularity, they already reached the maximum number of orders that they can complete this year, but those interested can still join a waitlist. Not Your Bubbe’s Hamantaschen is committed to making sure that the distribution of their cookies is as safe as possible for everyone in the Tufts community. Shaw said that the preordering is intended to ensure that customers are able to safely receive the cookies with minimal interpersonal interactions.
“We take COVID health and safety incredibly seriously,” Shaw said. “We waited until we knew it would be safe enough to even attempt, … given the cautious easing of restrictions on behalf of the university health professionals.”
Back in 2020, the students at the Bayit were pleased by a big turnout of orders from the Tufts community. According to Shaw, Not Your Bubbe’s Hamantaschen raised over $1,000 for charity during that first hamantaschen bake. This was a big undertaking, but Shaw had grown up preparing hamantaschen alongside his family in Glencoe, Illinois, where they baked hamantaschen cookies for members of their community.
“It’s always been so meaningful, that time of year, to be able to really make people’s day important,” Shaw said. “So we would always do it for free back home. We would make a couple hundred and give them to teachers and healthcare workers.”
According to Shaw, the Bayit made over 1,000 hamantaschen in 2020. Shaw and the other students were up for the challenge and are looking forward to making hamantaschen once again this coming Purim.
“It’s so much fun, and we all know we’re doing it for the best cause,” Shaw said.
Senior Jolie Davidson, a student who lived at the Bayit back in 2020, fondly remembers being a part of Not Your Bubbe’s first bake and all of the preparations involved. Davidson described the main common space of the Bayit as piled high with boxes filled with hamantaschen, the fridge packed with jars of hamantaschen filling, with some students rolling dough while others folded the dough around the filling to be baked into the cookies.
“We had a whole assembly line at one point,” Davidson said. “There’s so much sweat and heart that went into those cookies that if you are buying some you are contributing to this project that is really beautiful and comes out of a lot of love.”
While she is no longer living at the Bayit, Davidson is looking forward to helping out and receiving her hamantaschen order, especially because of the memories of her time spent at the Bayit before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[The hamantaschen bake] was one final beautiful moment that I got to share with my house before we all had to leave, and so it is in some ways a nice full circle moment,” Davidson said.
Aside from hamantaschen cookies being tasty for students, including Davidson, buying them can also have a more personal significance, especially for those who are Jewish. Enjoying the cookies from Not Your Bubbe’s Hamantaschen can be a way to connect back to their roots and upbringing.
“Especially in times where it’s hard to connect to people without a mask, there’s definitely something to be said about being able to have home away from home if hamantaschen are a part of your memories,” Davidson said.
Yet, hamantaschen cookies are more than just a Purim treat to be enjoyed by the Jewish community at Tufts. Buying these cookies can also help to bridge different religious groups on campus. This greater sense of connectedness was felt by John Lazur, a senior who worked alongside Shaw on the Interfaith Student Council at Tufts.
“Religion is a really big part of my identity and a really big part of my student experience, and I think this is a fun, easy way for more people to think about the role of religious and philosophical community on campus,” Lazur said.
Growing up as a Unitarian Universalist Humanist, Lazur had not tried hamantaschen before coming to Tufts. After being introduced to these cookies through the Bayit, Lazur is looking forward to their upcoming hamantaschen order, especially the salted caramel — their favorite flavor.
“I think Not Your Bubbe’s Hamantaschen has created an opportunity for people that might not be Jewish or might not have grown up eating hamantaschen to have a taste of that tradition,” Lazur said.