No update on Kosher dining

by Daniel Kim | 1/10/16 8:52pm

The adequacy of kosher dining provided by the Pavilion in the Class of 1953 Commons has come into question since a petition posted by Cameron Isen ’18 began circulating in September. As of press time, the petition had 723 signatures.

The petition asks the College to provide the kosher kitchen with an Orthodox certification, a stricter standard than the kitchen’s current certification from a service called Tablet K.

In response, the administration put together a working group, which met in the fall to tackle the issue. However, no tangible solution has been implemented yet. Headed by director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding Daniel Benjamin, the working group consists of Jewish faculty members, Jewish students and members of the administration.

Isen, one of the two Orthodox Jewish students participating in the working group, said that the group members’ differing levels of knowledge slowed down the process of facilitating the discussion of tangible solutions, leading them to miss several self-imposed deadlines.

“We didn’t want to be the kind of group that came and made a big voice and do something like occupy the president’s office,” he said. “We tried to go about it in a politically correct and kind way and we spoke with a lot of people at the administration. At this point, I see no reason why it hasn’t been done.”

Isen added that he is not very optimistic that kosher dining will be improved in the near future.

“I’m very fed up at this point,” Isen said. “It’s been about a year since we came to this school and we literally have nothing to show for [the kosher situation].”

Isen said that the lack of progress regarding kosher dining may be indicative of a more essential problem, which is the lack of an Orthodox Jewish community on campus. Approximately 400 members of the student body identify themselves as Jewish; among them, between 10 to 20 identify as Orthodox, he said.

“Judaism is a religion that very much thrives from its community,” Isen said. “It is very difficult to practice Judaism, especially Orthodox Judaism, when there is no community. I’m not saying kosher food will automatically make tons of Orthodox students flock to our school, but it is very obvious and apparent based on common sense and people that I have spoken to, that nobody is coming to a school where they can’t eat.”

Every Ivy League school except the College made the list of top 60 private universities by Jewish student population, according to a list published by Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world.

Mayer Schein ’16, an Orthodox Jewish student, said that he had been struggling with food since he arrived on campus. The response he commonly heard from the administration was that there were not enough people who demanded kosher dining.

“It shouldn’t be the chicken and egg issue that the school is trying to make it into.” he said. “The school is trying to make it so that we need to get all these Orthodox Jewish students and when we have enough students, we’ll serve kosher food.”

Schein participated as a panel speaker in a forum held two years ago where prospective Jewish students and college guidance counselors at Jewish day schools could ask questions about Jewish life at the College.

“Unanimously, the participants all said that even if guidance counselors and parents want to send their kids to Dartmouth, parents are not willing to send their kids to schools that don’t serve kosher food,” he said. “However, the College didn’t seem to acknowledge that issue.”

Schein said that, in spite of no change occurring in kosher dining, the Orthodox Jewish population has been growing for the past few years. When he was accepted to the College, he called Dartmouth Chabad Rabbi Moshe Gray to ask about attending the College as an Orthodox Jew, to which Gray replied that it would be difficult because there were no Orthodox Jews on campus.

“The following year when someone got in and called Rabbi Gray, he would tell them to instead call the one Orthodox Jew, which was me,” Schein said. “So three students called me that year and I hosted them for a weekend and all of them ended up coming here. The year after that, the three kids would host three more students and it would continue to snowball.”

Schein said that the demand for kosher dining is only going to increase.

“There is a threshold and at a certain point it is going to be unacceptable that [the administration] isn’t doing anything — it’s unacceptable now — but they’re not going to be able to hide it any longer,” Schein said. “There will just be more students complaining and it is simply ridiculous at this point.”

Dartmouth Hillel president Jonah Kelly ’18 said that the group is in full support of the Orthodox Jewish students’ efforts for adequate kosher dining.

“As a pluralistic organization, Hillel supports any denominations of Judaism,” Kelly said. “We fully support any endeavor to strengthen Jewish life on campus.”

Class of ’53 Commons culinary operations manager C. Robert Lester declined to comment on kosher dining.