College Needs Kosher Dining Option For Jewish Students
By Max Gilbert '13, staff writer
Max Gilbert ’13 is a columnist who pens the “Munchies With Max” column for The Student.

Thanks to the ambitious dreams of many, Amherst College has transformed itself from a “WASP-y,” all-male, New England college into a diverse, multi-ethnic learning community. These changes did not come easily or quickly, but came on the backs of individuals tirelessly working to further those noble goals. Our school is a place where, I hope, people of every creed, color or class can feel comfortable to grow and explore. Moreover, students are given incredible opportunities to not only retain their identity, but to share their unique backgrounds with others. We all benefit from such a — to use a food-related metaphor — “melting pot” attitude. The complex and delicious flavor that is Amherst is due to this balance of our tradition and history of academic excellence and an amalgamation of student ideas and input.

Food is an essential aspect of most cultures. Valentine Dining Hall has, in an effort to embrace this concept, been offering its “World Cuisine” meals. In addition, Amherst Dining Services has gone to great lengths to meet the needs of students with dietary restrictions, including gluten-free microwaves and vegan desserts. The Director of Dining Services, Charles Thompson, even states on Val’s homepage that “as our customers become more diverse, representing many different religious and cultural backgrounds, Amherst College Dining Services has responded by expanding menus to include ethnic foods, low-fat healthier choices, vegetarian and vegan foods and fresh foods cooked to order.” I would agree that Val has done its best to include more ethnic foods, and vegetarian options. It is my goal to inspire and empower our community to go one step further to actualize this vision of an egalitarian eating institution.

Our small, intimate and diverse community has embraced the imperative of respecting each and every person and their customs. It is unfortunate that many students from Jewish backgrounds who grew up observant of Judaic dietary law have had to give up on such a commitment upon coming to Amherst. Val has not been entirely dismissive of the issue, and offers frozen, microwaveable kosher meals. While something is always better than nothing, there isn’t a kosher microwave in which to cook these meals. We can and should do more to bring every student into the heart of Amherst, lest anyone feel marginalized. While students affected by the lack of kosher offerings are in the minority, this concern is of importance to everyone by the very nature of our diverse community.

Kosher law is very restrictive, and it would be a challenge for Val to implement such practices. However, given the number of interested students and the significance of such practices to their beliefs, something should be done to meet their needs. The College goes to such great lengths to encourage students to retain their cultural and religious identities, which is truly amazing. We must never give up on this honorable cause, and always strive to meet new challenges. It might not be easy to provide accommodations for kosher students, but the worth of rising to meet these needs is not in the act itself. Improving diversity is not a means to an end, but an end in of itself.

There are a variety of easily implemented solutions that are already being explored and discussed, thanks to the student and faculty Jewish leadership on campus. My ideal solution to this issue is to offer a combined residential/culinary option. Just as there are Russian, German, Spanish/French, Asian and “alternative” theme houses, so too should there be a theme house for observant Jewish students. The students who would live in such a house could keep a kosher kitchen and eat their meals together. In addition, other students could be part of a “Kosher meal option” that allows them to eat in this residence hall instead of in Val.

Expanding diversity has been the valiant legacy of President Marx. We have come so far, and yet there are still improvements we must make for Amherst College to be the community he, and we, have envisioned. The fact that kosher law is so strict should not be the primary deterrent from Amherst catering to the needs of observant students. On the contrary, seeing the lengths that some people go to preserve the ancient laws and traditions of their people, we should respect and honor this practice. The theme of redemption and hope for the future is central to this past week’s religious holidays. It is fitting, and inspiring, that even as the academic year draws to a close, students are clamoring to grow and expand in their faith and practice. I would like to personally thank President Marx, Director of Religious Life Paul Sorrentino, Rabbi Shmuel Kravitsky, Rabbi Bruce Seltzer and every student who has been involved in the recent discussion regarding an expansion of Jewish life on campus. May the College community go from strength to strength, for the rest of this year and in years to come.

Issue 24, Submitted 2011-04-26 23:06:52