Yale’s Slifka Center for Jewish Life sits behind Silliman College on Wall Street, a quiet one-way alley behind Silliman College. Sunlight pours into the building from tall panes of dazzling glass onto plush purple couches. Given the warmth of the space, it’s no surprise the center hosted over 100 events in the fall after its Summer 2022 grand opening. Among those who call 80 Wall Street home, one of the most special spots in the building, alongside the “house of study,” is its deluxe, 250-seat kosher dining hall. 

Slifka’s kosher dining hall, like any other on campus, is open to all Yale students. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, the kitchen offers a salad bar and hot dishes from a variety of cuisines. The menu is distinct from the other campus dining halls, and Wednesday night — not Thursdays! — is chicken tendies. Every other Sunday, Slifka hosts a “Lox et Veritas” tradition: a fully furnished, New York-style “bagel brunch.” Warning — you may find yourself too full with smiles and good vibes from Head Chef Dave Williams and Kosher Supervisor Ronnie Bergman to fit much food down. 

In my experience, the only damper on dining at Slifka tends to be apprehension over “eating kosher.” You may even be wondering the same questions as friends I’ve invited in the past: “Can I eat the food there if I’m not Jewish?” several have asked. Or, as one texted, “please let me know before I put anything in my mouth if I’m doing something offensive.” The answer to these questions are, by the way, “of course, everyone is welcome” and “if you could just chew with your mouth closed, that would be great!” I believe a little education about the purpose of kosher dining will go a long way toward the center’s goal: bringing together Jewish students and the larger Yale community. 

Kosher literally means “proper” in Hebrew, and in common parlance refers to Jewish dietary laws governing the preparation and types of food that Jews can eat. While the rules are generally agreed upon, how they are observed differs greatly across the wide spectrum of Jewish practice. Many of these laws are sanitary in nature, others involve avoiding “morally impure” animals like predators and pigs, and others mandate certain ancient, “humane” butchering practices. Because the list of rules is long and complicated, the menu at Slifka is chosen so that the food is acceptable to religious Jews that consider strictly adhering to kosher food to be a “mitzvah,” or commandment. Yet the idea that eating is a holy activity isn’t strictly Jewish — almost all world religions and many cultures have some notion of “proper” or “clean” preparation and consumption of food, though few are as strict and precise as Jewish kosher law. Kosher dining means the Slifka cafeteria is the most accessible one on Yale’s campus. 

In fact, the history of kosher dining at Yale is a long story that forms a crucial part of Yale’s steps toward increased diversity. Its history parallels the end of anti-Jewish discrimination and quotas in Yale’s admission policy. In 1922, Yale admissions officers spoke in closed-doors meetings of a “Jewish Problem,” calling Jews “the alien and unwashed element” and resolving to cap Jewish enrollment at 10 percent for the next forty years. This language was repeated in a 1945 board report, highlighting the institutional antisemitism faced by Jewish students. However, even once official quotas were lifted, the lack of kosher food on campus was a major obstacle that forced many observant Jewish high schoolers to give up the dream of a Yale education. Yale’s requirement that Jewish students pay for a meal plan and food they could not eat quickly led activists to set up the first Jewish kitchen in 1959.

Traditional Jewish life has always revolved around the dinner table. Slifka’s dining center is the most recent milestone in the last sixty years of Kosher meal prep at Yale, an achievement that offers inclusivity to religious students amidst Yale’s largely secular campus. What was once a cramped kosher kitchen has sprouted into a space of community and togetherness, which is why ecumenical and non-Jewish groups like the Jewish-Christian Bible Study club, {W}holy Queer, Krav Maga, Yale Tango Society and Yogis at Yale regularly gather here. Even your correspondent, a “Ju-Bu” who’d rather sing Lennon’s “Imagine” than “birkat hamazon” and is deeply concerned about the inequities in funding across Yale, finds this legacy of unity inspiring.

So I leave you with a call to action: Whatever your religious or dietary needs, go gather a few friends and grab a meal at Slifka. There’s a good chance you find chicken tendies or a falafel bar, sweet, piping kugel or perhaps the most delicious bagel of your life — but what’s certain is that by eating at Slifka, you are choosing to celebrate a tradition of inclusion where everyone is welcome. For me, that’s what “proper” eating is all about. 

EDWARD KUPERMAN is a junior in Silliman College and co-head of Slifka’s “Rediscovering-Spirituality” affinity group. Contact him at edward.kuperman@yale.edu.