Hillel keeps things kosher on campus

Eating kosher can have a range of meanings, depending on one’s adherence.

Amber Schadewald

If University first-year student Mordechai Schaleger is hungry, he can’t just grab a Snickers.

Schaleger is an Orthodox Jew who has decided to keep a kosher diet while living on campus. Schaleger cooks all his own meals in his campus apartment kitchen in order to accommodate his dietary restrictions.

He said Snickers bars have too much dairy in the chocolate, so he won’t eat them.

Thanks to Hillel, the Jewish Student Center on University Avenue, Schaleger gets to sit back once a week, relax and let someone else do the cooking.

Since September, Hillel has been offering the “What’s On Wednesday” lunch, a $4 kosher meal, both with meat and vegetarian options, which is open to the public. Today they will serve Sloppy Joes.

“It’s the only opportunity at the University you have to eat a kosher meal that you didn’t make yourself,” he said.

Each week, about 12-25 students, faculty and staff attend the meal, which is cooked by different people each time, including professional chefs, student groups and members of the Hillel staff.

Sarah Routman, Hillel’s executive director, said the organization wanted to offer a kosher option for students, but that’s not the main focus of the lunch.

“It’s a great gathering point,” she said.

Schaleger said he has met many people who are unfamiliar with the term “kosher” and they assume it means the food has been blessed by a Rabbi – far from the actual complicated set of guidelines for kosher food.

Hillel’s Rabbi Sharon Stiefel said defining the kosher diet can be confusing because people can choose different levels of the diet based on how strict they want to be.

where to go

Kosher Meals
WHAT: Weekly $4 kosher meal every Wednesday at Hillel. Open to everyone. RSVP appreciated but not necessary.
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today
WHERE: Hillel, 1521 University Ave. S.E.

To put it simply, she said, those who keep kosher do not eat milk with meat. It also means that in the process of preparing a kosher meal, all of the dishes, cutlery and even ovens must be separate for meat and milk products.

Stiefel said being kosher also prohibits eating certain meats, such as pork and shellfish, and the meat they do eat must be from an animal that was slaughtered in a particular way.

“You always have to be mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth,” she said.

Rabbi Stiefel said for some people, keeping kosher is more about the food itself and not so much about the way it is prepared.

Schaleger said he considers himself “strictly kosher” and is very particular about what he eats and how it is cooked.

“Everyone is at their own place with religious observance,” he said.

Routman said people not only come to the weekly meals because they’re kosher, but because it’s good food.

First-year student Sarah Boden recently started attending the lunches, and said although she doesn’t keep kosher now, she’s thinking about it.

The Mexican burritos served at a past lunch were her favorite, but she admitted she was hesitant to try them because of the restrictions on combining meat and cheese.

“I’m from Wisconsin and I like my cheese,” she said. “But I was like, ‘Oh, you can have tasty Mexican cuisine without breaking kosher – nice.’ “

Ross Leder, supply-chain management first-year student, said he attends the lunches because it’s a good way to meet Jewish and non-Jewish students.

Leder follows some of the kosher rules, but wouldn’t claim that he “keeps kosher.” Living in the dorms, he just “eats what’s there” and he isn’t aware of any other places on campus to eat kosher.

The University Dining Service previously offered a kosher meal plan, but it is no longer available due to the small number of participants. Leder said if the option were still there, he’d have no reason not to eat kosher.

Leder said the food at Hillel’s Wednesday lunch is usually good, and, more importantly, “it’s all you can eat.”