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Keeping Kosher at Dartmouth or Not?

The quality of the College’s kosher dining facility has come around again on the guitar. You see, we supposedly have a kosher area in FoCo called The Pavilion, but it isn’t really all that kosher. Jared Westheim ‘08 complained about the sloppy practices there in an article in the now-defunct Dartmouth Independent in 2005, and I wrote a post about the problem in 2012. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

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.

As a result of poor practices and oversight in the Pavilion, a good many Conservative and Orthodox Jewish students won’t apply to the College. In fact, Dartmouth (along with Princeton) does not even make the list of the 2013 Top [30] Schools Jews Choose; all of the other Ivies are there. And according to the Heart2Heart website, the College is the only Ivy not to offer Glatt kosher meals.

The administration has known about the problem for many years, as one of Dartblog’s Baker Tower Irregulars reports:

During the Spring of 2013, amid concerns from within the Office of Admissions regarding the low number of applicants from Jewish day schools, the College invited about 20 college guidance counselors from Jewish day schools to visit the campus and learn about Jewish life. The visit included a panel of Jewish students fielding questions from the guidance counselors, discussing some of the struggles of being an observant Jew at Dartmouth. I spoke on that panel, and when I mentioned the small size of the Jewish community at Dartmouth, several of the guidance counselors explained that parents are unwilling to let their children apply to, let alone attend, Dartmouth, due to its lack of properly supervised kosher food.

Folks, we are getting deep into core values here. A large cohort of the highest quality students won’t apply to the College because we can’t get our act together and provide them dining facilities that meet their religious concerns. Why is that? Cameron Isen ‘18, Mayer Schein ‘16, Eliza Ezrapour ‘18, and Matthew Goldstein ‘18 are working with the administration to improve kosher dining. Here is Cameron’s comment on the current state of negotiations:

We have explicitly asked administrators on several occasions why Dartmouth is unwilling to change the certification. They have not directly addressed the question; however [President Hanlon’s Chief of Staff] Laura Hercod has stated in email, “It’s Dartmouth’s understanding that we are providing foods that comply with kosher laws.” As I have mentioned, we have on several occasions explained to David Newlove, Lisa Hogarty, and Hercod that mainstream Conservative and Orthodox Judaism doesn’t hold Tablet K as a reliable hechsher, since it relies on supervisory leniencies that are not commonly accepted by a significant portion of kosher observant Jews. The most prominent of these leniencies is Tablet K’s apparent belief that proper daily oversight by a sabbath-observant mashgiach in a meat kitchen is not fundamentally crucial to the integrity of the food.

As a remedy Dartmouth has offered us “triple-wrapped” frozen kosher meals with the Orthodox Union certification, which seems to imply that they understand the quality of supervision that we are seeking. However, according to DDS’ own nutritionist, these meals are generally high in sodium and total fat, and they are not sufficient for a college student’s diet without other dietary supplementation (which we have not been offered).

We do understand that Orthodox Jewish students are small in number at Dartmouth (mainly, because they can’t eat here), but we are hoping to show the school through our petition on change.org that the Dartmouth community — and people outside of Dartmouth — value the Jewish students who wish to observe the laws of kashrus. We still hope to see a positive resolution. The petition has received 467 signatures so far.

There you have it. A group of concerned students is once again mounting a charge to get the College to change its ways. They are not asking for something new or unfeasible; they only want kosher dining to return to the level of observance that existed when it was introduced to the College in 2001. Here is a link to their on-line petition:

Kosher Dining Petition Comp.jpg

Is there no money in all of Dartmouth to pay for an appropriate level of dining for Conservative and Orthodox Jews (and Muslim students, too)?

Addendum: Let’s look at Brown to see how the dining services at that under-endowed school — Brown has half the endowment per student that Dartmouth has — handle kosher dining options:

Brown Dining offers two Kosher/Halal meal plan options for observant Jewish and Muslim students. The Kosher/Halal Flex 20 plan combines the best features or our weekly and Flex plans. It provides 14 meals per week and a block of flex meals. The Kosher/Halal 14 plan provides 14 meals per week without the flex meals.

There is a section of the Ratty designated for Kosher and Halal meal service so that students can adhere to dietary laws while dining with friends in the Ratty. Additionally, you’ll enjoy all the benefits of Weekly meal plan participation, including meal credits, guest meals and FlexPlus Points.

Chef Daren Bulley at Divine Providence Kosher Catering supplies complete Glatt Kosher luncheons and dinners Sunday through Friday lunch. Our food reflects our commitment to exceptional quality with an emphasis on sustainable foods. Kosher vegetarian items are provided. All meals are prepared under the supervision of the Vaad HaKashruth of Rhode Island with a mashgiach tmidi present at all times. Sabbath and holiday meals are served at Brown Hillel.

It would seem to this observer that the College should be able to find a way to offer its students the same kosher dining options as Brown and all the other Ivies provides to their undergrads.

Addendum: A professor writes in:

In addition to providing less-than-satisfactory kosher dining, Dartmouth is holding required Freshman advising on the first day of Rosh Hoshana. The work-around for observant Jews is to get advising the Saturday before. I’m not kidding. The message, intentional or not, is clear!

Addendum: An an alumnus adds a comment:

I have raised this issue at Dartmouth several times over the years. Although I do not keep kosher, I have pointed out to the College that the current certification is such that Conservative and Orthodox Jews who keep kosher are not comfortable dining there. Most recently I had a conversation with Maria Laskaris, who is aware of the problem with respect to applicants but cannot seem to address it.

To me, the fundamental issue is one of integrity: Dartmouth is holding itself out as providing something it does not, in fact, provide. All of the other Ivies, and most of our peers such as Duke, provide recognized kosher dining that meets the standards of kosher observance. I, too, have been told, “it’s good enough for Dartmouth; the food itself is kosher,” That misses the point. Kosher is like being pregnant, you either are or you are not.

I applaud the students who have initiated this dialogue with the administration, and I do not understand why the administration is not willing to correct the Pavilion’s deficiencies by providing real supervision, especially since the College is being misleading and deceptive, in my view, with regards to its claims as to the availability of kosher dining.

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