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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, April 18, 2024

Keeping kosher at Tufts

For most students, eating in a dining hall rarely requires more thought than deciding between pizza and a panini. But for some Tufts undergraduates, finding food can be a continuous battle: These students keep kosher, a set of Jewish dietary laws that restrict what foods one can and can't eat, and how that food can be prepared.

The issue of keeping kosher at Tufts is a conundrum. While students who keep kosher often find it difficult to obtain enough food, at the same time, their small numbers make it difficult for Dining Services to effect a change.

According to students who keep kosher at Tufts, they for the most part survive by eating vegetarian food.

"I get by with eating vegetarian options, but I would feel a whole lot healthier if there were a kosher meal plan," sophomore Claire Hoffman said.

Technically, all vegetarian food is kosher, but plates and utensils at Dewick and Carmichael dining halls are not kosher - meaning that they come into contact with non-kosher food.

"I keep strict Kashrut at my house," said freshman Miriam Gale, referring to the laws that govern kosher eating. "But I am only 'kosher-style' here, as it is nearly impossible to keep strict kosher and eat at the dining halls."

Gale is one of only three students who subscribe to Dining Services' kosher meal option, which consists of a prepackaged kosher meal, available once a day Monday through Wednesday at an additional cost of $5 per meal.

"There's a kosher purveyor in Brookline that we order weekly from," said Julie Lampie, a Dining Services nutritionist who is in charge of the kosher options available in the dining halls. "$5 is the additional cost, but the actual cost of the kosher meals is more than double that, [plus] the delivery from Brookline. We do not pass on the cost to the students."

Although Gale said that she is "very satisfied" with the meals, other kosher students have chosen not to order them. Sophomore Harrison Levy described the meals as "not so great," while sophomore Brooke Ginsberg has never tried the meals because they "appeared unappetizing".

Both Levy and Ginsberg stay kosher by eating vegetarian. "It's actually extremely difficult. There are very few sources of protein," Ginsberg said. "I would definitely rather have a full-time kosher meal plan."

There are, however, many difficulties associated with providing such a meal plan - most specifically, the high cost.

Some schools, such as Columbia University, offer a kosher meal plan, but the price is very high: A freshman kosher meal plan costs $4,154 per year and is not available on Saturdays.

The kosher meal plan at Barnard, though more comprehensive than Columbia's, can cost up to $4,776.

Levy believes that the cost is understandable, though, considering the difficulties of preparing kosher food. "Paying extra for actual meals is totally acceptable," Levy said.

Additionally, the physical structure of Dewick and Carmichael dining halls themselves presents an obstacle: Kosher food preparation requires two kitchens, one for meat and one for dairy, and all utensils and flatware must be washed and stored separately.

"The facilities could not accommodate that," Lampie said.

And while the one building on campus that does have separate kitchens is the Granoff Family Hillel Center, the building was not meant to provide a dining option.

"When they built the new Hillel, it was determined at that point that the administration did not want Jewish students segregated by having a meal plan out of Hillel," Lampie said. "So it was a conscious decision by the administration not to house a kosher meal plan at that location."

Though some kosher students reported that they would "rather deal with" the segregation in order to have a fully kosher diet, senior Ilana Kahn said that she understands the administration's choice.

"I really respect that," Kahn said. She suggested, however, that a kosher dining center be open to non-kosher students as well. "At [the University of Pennsylvania] non-Jews will eat at Hillel because that's where the dining hall is. It ends up being a really great way to open Hillel's doors to Jews and non-Jews alike."

But Tufts would have trouble making the change. "Hillel Center wasn't set up to be a dining hall," said Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, Chief Executive Officer of Tufts Hillel and Tufts' Jewish Chaplain.

"But it's very important for us to work out a way to satisfy the needs of students who want to keep kosher on campus," Summit added.

Summit explained that fully kosher meals are offered at Hillel on Fridays and Saturdays for Shabbat, on holidays and at special programs during the week.

The biggest obstacle to offering more kosher options at Tufts, however, is the lack of demand. Lampie said that Dining Services has tried new plans in the dining halls, but they have always ended due to the small number of students who show interest.

"We've tried having kosher deli meat available in the dining halls at no charge. It just never seemed to be very popular, so it was discontinued," Lampie said, explaining that options change from year to year as demand changes.

"The most [kosher students] we've ever had was about 15," Lampie said. "We did meals twice a week in Dewick. They were prepared at Hillel, and shipped to Dewick."

After one semester, however, students stopped enrolling in the program.

Summit has had the same problem: "We've tried many options over the years, and one of the problems that we've had is that it's been difficult to locate a core group of students who will sign onto a kosher meal plan," he said.

According to some kosher students, however, this is a catch-22: "If there were a kosher meal plan, there would be more kosher Jews attending Tufts," Hoffman said.

Kahn agreed. "The truth is that as soon as they get a kosher kitchen, they're going to get the Orthodox Jewish population," Kahn said. "A lot of my friends from Orthodox day schools were specifically told not to go - not even to apply - to Tufts because there's no kosher option."

"One thing that we could do in the interim is to identify how many students who would be willing to eat on a kosher plan," Summit said. "Dining Services has been supportive of increasing options for kosher food, but we have had trouble getting students to sign up for expanded kosher food options."

"But we need more options at Tufts," Summit added.

Students, however, understand the difficulties in providing more kosher options. "I think it's a great idea, but I'm not sure how feasible it is at Tufts," Ginsberg said. "I don't know if an entire kosher cafeteria is ever going to work here."

Ginsberg said that other, larger schools have an easier time of providing kosher food: "[New York University] has an entire kosher cafeteria... it's an entire floor of just kosher food, which is nice, but it's not realistic [for Tufts]. A lot of people eat there all the time, but that's in the middle of New York City. It's not in the middle of Medford, Mass.," Ginsberg said.

Even at Columbia, where a full-time kosher meal plan is available, "a lot of the food never gets eaten," said Columbia sophomore Dave Coates. "There is a large Orthodox and Conservative Jewish population at Columbia, but not enough of them eat in the dining halls every day, so the food gets wasted."

Still, some students find it unfair that their needs are not completely met: "As a freshman, I was told that abstaining from the meal plan was simply not an option and that all first-years had to be on the premium plan," Levy said. "Interestingly, during the month of Ramadan, Muslim students were given extra points to accommodate for daytime fasting."

"I was never offered any such alternative," Levy added.

According to others, however, students should simply take the lack of a kosher meal plan into account when choosing a college.

"I understood when I chose Tufts that very few people keep kosher, and that I would have to find my own way to fit my needs," Gale said.

One of the biggest complaints that kosher students have involves holidays - most importantly, Passover. "The rules on Passover are very strict," Ginsberg said. "I definitely think they should look into having a kosher Passover meal plan. A lot of my friends who aren't necessarily strictly kosher year-round do keep kosher for Passover."

Dining Services has had difficulty trying to address the problem. "Two years ago we offered kosher-for-Passover meals for free, but unfortunately it was abused," Lampie said. "A lot of students enrolled and then didn't eat the meals."

For now, a kosher buffet is available in the dining halls during Passover, and a hot food option is available at the cost of $4 per meal. For some students, such as Ginsberg, this is not enough, because the rule about keeping plates separate is not followed, nor does the food offer enough variety.

Still, the voices of students like Ginsberg are being heard: "We're working to really expand the kosher-for-Passover [meals] that we'll have over this coming Passover," Summit said.

"We really identified a need last year. Students wanted more options and so we're going to have many more meals during Passover that students can take advantage of," he added.

According to Summit, expanding the University's year-round kosher options is not out of the picture.

"Hillel is totally committed to work with students to move a kosher plan forward," he said. "I really would love to hear from more people specifically so we could make this happen."