UI dining hall menu modified to accommodate religious needs

By Elizabeth Weber

Samantha Staley remembers the struggles of eating in the dormitories.

Having been raised on kosher food, her options at the dining halls were limited and she joked that she lived off cereal as an underclassman.

“My friends would be eating chicken fingers and I couldn’t join them because I was kosher,” said Staley, now a junior in LAS.

Staley was only one of many students who grew up kosher because of either religious faith or dietary purposes and had to find other ways to make do with University meal plans.

Students like Staley don’t need to worry any longer. As of the fall 2006 semester, students living in all University dormitories now have the option to choose ready-made kosher meals as part of their selected dining plan.

With its current success, some dormitories will be serving hot kosher meals by the spring semester.

“If you lived in a dorm and wanted to eat kosher, it didn’t exist,” said Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel of the Chabad Jewish Center. “You had to buy a meal plan and then buy other food.”

In the fall of 2005, Rabbi Tiechtel and Chabad looked to the administration, including a meeting with Chancellor Richard Herman, to see what could be done to implement kosher meals into the dorms.

By March of this year, they were referred to Don Block, associate director of dining services for residence halls. In a meeting with Block, they discussed what the costs would be and how the kosher meals could be taken off the ground.

Rabbi Tiechtel said that this program first came to light after getting feedback from students, parents, and alumni and “to being in tune with the needs of the community.”

Chabad and Rabbi Tiechtel also received support from state Senator Ira Silverstein who was concerned for students not being able to maintain their religious lifestyle and customs.

Currently, the kosher meals being offered consist of pre-packaged, microwavable meals that consist of chicken, vegetarian and pasta dishes.

Rabbi Tiechtel considers this phase one of the program.

Phase two begins this spring with hot kosher meals being served on a regular basis. Dorms like FAR and Allen Hall, which has one of the larger populations of Jewish students, will be among the first to participate in this program.

However, despite the dietary rules of the Jewish and even Muslim faith, Rabbi Tiechtel notes that anyone can give kosher a try.

“(An) interesting fact is that 75 percent of the international kosher market isn’t even Jewish,” he said.

“Many people eat kosher because it is healthier,” Tiechtel said.

Outside of the dorms, students can seek dining elsewhere. Hillel, another Jewish cultural center for students, provides a dinner every Monday through Thursday. Dinner is also provided on Friday, where they observe Shabbat, the weekly day of rest in Judaism.

“They can not only have kosher meals, but they can have it in a community setting,” said Joel Schwitzer, director of Hillel.

Chabad also sponsors lunch on the Quad every Wednesday and serves kosher meals at the Illini Union.

Students seeking a detailed rundown of kosher dining can visit the Web site jewishuiuc.org.

According to the Web site, the basics of kosher food consist of all fruits, vegetables and grains. Kosher meats include beef, lamb, poultry and scaled fish.

Foods prohibited in kosher dining include pork, the meat of aggressive animals, shellfish like shrimp and lobster and insects.

When preparing a kosher meal, it is important to note that meats and dairy are never to be eaten together.

They are also served on separate dishes, cooked in separate pots and pans, and cleaned in separate areas.

Rabbi Tiechtel said he believes implementing kosher foods into the dormitories is not only a step toward bringing diversity to the University, but also to other institutions as well.

“The University of Illinois is a trendsetter,” he said. “We hope other schools will follow as well.”