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Something’s Not Quite Kosher

Dartmouth Service.pngAt Dartmouth there’s the story and then there’s the real story. The June 30 edition of Dartmouth Now described the 2011 Employee Service Awards Banquet at which President Kim presented the Sheila Culbert Award to DDS’ Robert Lester. We’ll save the Sheila Culbert stories for another day (the punchline for the best one is, “I don’t care if it’s true!”) and simply note that Lester, a culinary operations manager, received the award for his work setting up a kosher/halal kitchen and dining area in Thayer.

The back story is the continuing controversy over the lack of rigor with which DDS maintains the Pavilion’s kosher food line. Tales abound about lax oversight, the improper sharing of equipment with non-kosher parts of Thayer, the fly-by-night supervision of the facility by the controversy-ridden Tablet K service (certain congregations explicitly refuse to accept Tablet K’s certification), the use of incompletely trained Dartmouth students as mashgiachs, and so on. The facility is not worthy of praise; in truth, it is a black eye for the College.

Needless to say, these facts negate one of the central purposes of Dartmouth’s kosher dining facility: to make the College attractive and welcoming to practicing Conservative and Orthodox Jewish students, a group with many high-achieving students that is under-represented at the College. Dartmouth and Princeton are the only two Ivies not to rank in the 30 most popular schools for Jewish students. The six other Ivies rank between fourth place (Cornell — hardly an urban institution) and fifteenth (Yale — where 30% of all students profess to being Jewish). One would think that the College would be making serious efforts to rectify this problem.

The Pavilion started off well enough in 2001, with kosher products being supplied by a leading Massachusetts purveyor and the kitchen supervised by well regarded Orthodox Rabbi Halbfinger of the Vaad Harabonim of New England. At the time, the facility was certified Glatt kosher, the highest standard of ritual cleanliness. But, as is often the case at the College, a round of budget cuts — the same one in 2002 that almost led to the demise of the swim team — saw a change of supplier and supervisor, with low-cost Rabbi Saffra of Tablet K contracting with the College. Saffra’s reputation for a lack of rigor is compounded by the infrequency of his visits to Hanover.

To make a long story short, while the administration may boast about its kosher/halal dining facility — and give out awards for it — and in doing so impress the lay observer, the Conservative and Orthodox communities have not been persuaded that Dartmouth has dining facilities that are acceptable to observant Jews. As a result, the College continues to be overlooked by virtually all graduates of élite Jewish high schools.

Sadly, none of the above is news to the administration. Jared Westheim ‘08 complained about conditions in the kosher/halal dining hall in a well researched piece in The Dartmouth Independent on May 4, 2005.

Note: This type of story is often repeated at the College. The PR department bestows lavish praise on areas that, when investigated, are revealed to be at best slipshod. For too long now our senior administrators have settled for mediocrity, and the staff acts as if working 9-5 and picking up a fat paycheck is more important than achieving excellence and driving the College forward.

Addendum: A faculty member writes in with a comment:

A prominent physician I met at a wedding in NYC in April 2005 told me he had recently visited DHMC, went to the Pavilion, read their brochure which claimed they were glatt kosher (‘glatt’ denotes highest Orthodox standard), and sat down to eat. He then noticed a jar of Paul Newman’s DAIRY salad dressing among all the MEATY stuff. This should never happen in a properly supervised kosher facility. There was no indication who was supervising the facility, and it took a phone call to DDS to ascertain that the Pavilion was under Raphael Saffra’s Tablet-K supervision.

A similar claim was being made at that time [but no longer] on Dartmouth’s web site:

” Anyone who requires a special diet usually finds their way to the Pavilion. It offers a complete vegetarian menu and the food is Glatt Kosher certified.”

The physician was livid and told me he would be telling everyone he knew.

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