Passover observers face obstacles in dining halls

Why is this week different from all other weeks?

Jewish students are scrambling for matzo and gefilte fish instead of buffalo chicken pizza and spaghetti and meatballs.

While Dining Services officials said they make a concerted effort to accommodate Jewish students observing the holiday of Passover, some students said it is difficult to maintain dietary restrictions while eating in University dining halls. Instead, students said, they choose to pay an additional fee to eat at the Slifka Center or eat off campus during the holiday.

During the eight days of Passover, which began on Monday night and will continue through next Tuesday, observers cannot eat leavened bread — a restriction that prohibits them from eating the regular breads, pastas, fried products and baked goods normally offered by Dining Services. Those observing the holiday more strictly cannot eat any foods that have been prepared in the presence of the restricted foods.

Dining Services officials said that although it would be impossible to keep dining hall kitchens completely kosher for Passover, the office responds to the holiday by putting out items such as matzo, kosher breakfast cereal and hard-boiled eggs in the salad bars, in addition to giving students the option of having omelets cooked for them all week.

But several students said they feel their only recourse during Passover is to travel home to eat or pay extra to dine at Slifka.

“Anybody that really wants to keep kosher for Passover in any way shape or form has to go to Slifka,” said Marc Appel ‘08, who served on this year’s Hillel board.

Becky Dinerstein ’09 pointed to Tuesday’s lunch menu as an example of the inadequate meal options for Passover observers, even for those who do not follow the rules strictly. She said most of the residential college dining hall entree options, which today included a chili dog, chicken tenders and an onion and potato tart, contain leavened bread, which is prohibited. She said she would like to see Dining Services serve at least one Passover-friendly entree at each meal — such as a stir-fry or chicken cutlets — and put out more condiments that can be eaten with matzo.

The temptation to break the restrictions can also pose a challenge to the faithful, Abby Fraeman ’09 said, as it is difficult to watch others consume the food she cannot eat.

But Appel said while he would like to be able to eat in the dining halls this week, he understands that paying for kosher for Passover food — whose preparation must be certified by rabbinic authorities — would not be economically viable for the University.

“Passover food is five to 10 times the cost of regular food,” he said.

Dining Services Communications Director Karen Dougherty said that before the Kosher Kitchen opened at Slifka, the University compiled a list of 40 prohibited ingredients that needed to be avoided during the holiday and offered more meal options for Passover observers. Dougherty said Dining Services now offers considerably fewer Kosher meals because it has an ongoing agreement with the Slifka Center that Jewish students will take the majority of their meals in the Kosher Kitchen instead of the residential dining halls and Commons during the holiday.

But students who elect to have their meals at the Slifka Center this week must pay an additional fee for Passover food. Students must pay up to $4.50 for lunch and $6.50 for dinner, a surcharge that many said they would like to see the University subsidize.

“The extra money deters a lot of people from going to Slifka,” Yale Hillel Vice-President Amanda Rubin ’09 said.

In contrast, for Muslim students who fast for Ramadan in the fall, Dining Services provides packaged suhoors, a pre-dawn meal, and caters daily iftaars, a fast-breaking meal eaten after sunset — all at no extra charge for the students. Dining Services also provides a hot halal entree twice a week in addition to halal hotdogs and hamburgers that are available upon request throughout the year at each University dining hall.

Muslim Students Association President Altaf Saadi ’08 said although there is room for improvement, she thinks the Dining Services accommodations help make observing Ramadan on campus very manageable.

“We’ve really come a long distance from a couple of years ago where none of this was provided,” Saadi said.

Yale Friends of Israel Co-president Sara Robinson ’09 said that while she is frustrated by the lack of options for Jewish students, she understands that making the dining halls fully Passover-friendly would require too radical an overhaul.

“What definition of kosher would you use?” she said. “If you use a strict one, they would have to change the whole dining hall.”

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