Jewish and Muslim students are working together to bring both kosher and halal meals to the campus of Carnegie Mellon University.
“For the past three years, we have been working with the administration in collaboration with Chabad to get kosher food on campus,” said Benji Berlow, director of Jewish Student Life at CMU. “We helped to initiate a steering committee to be working on this. And we have made a lot of in-roads into finding a vendor.”
The Jewish/Muslim student life steering committee is comprised of representatives from Hillel Jewish University Center, Chabad of Carnegie Mellon University, Jewish students and faculty, Muslim students and faculty, and community members, according to Berlow.
The steering committee has been working with the CMU office of housing and dining services to expand kosher options at the university from the grab-and-go style convenience meals now available, to fresh, hot meals offered three times a day. The committee is also seeking the introduction of halal options on campus. Currently, no halal meat is offered at CMU’s dining halls.
A spokesperson from CMU confirmed that the university was exploring kosher and halal food options, but would not comment further on the matter. He said the university was not ready to make a formal announcement.
Of the 400 to 500 Jewish undergraduates at CMU, about 40 will not eat nonkosher meat, said Brian Alderman, a Jewish senior at CMU who is on the steering committee. Six or seven of those students will eat no food that is not certified as kosher.
“There is definitely a demand for kosher food,” Alderman said. “And the entire campus will benefit from it.”
Kosher meals could benefit a variety of students, said Berlow, including those who cannot eat dairy, and those who are vegetarians, because the meals will be certified and labeled as either dairy or meat.
CMU is on board with the idea of bringing kosher and halal meals to campus, Berlow said, but it initially had trouble finding a vendor that could satisfy the specific dining standards of the university.
“When we first approached CMU, they contacted 22 vendors, but many did not meet the standards,” Berlow said.
It is still unclear whether CMU will find one vendor to provide both kosher and halal meals, or will end up with two separate vendors.
“Halal is pretty much the Muslim version of kosher food,” said Hira Ahmad, a Muslim student who is a junior at CMU, and a member of the steering committee. “Some rules are different; to mix dairy and meat is OK. But we eat no shellfish, and any animal we eat can not have eaten another animal during its lifetime.”
CMU’s Muslim student organization has about 40 members, Ahmad said.
“I’m really glad the Jewish students are doing this, too,” she said. “There are already a few kosher options in the convenience store. So, they set the precedent and it is making it easier for us. They know we don’t eat certain kinds of meat, and they are willing to help us with our efforts, too.”
In addition to serving the needs of current students, having kosher food on campus may also be a selling point to prospective students, Berlow said.
“It opens the door for prospective Jewish students if there is kosher food,” he said. “Jewish [high] schools will call [to see if there is kosher food available], and they don’t even put CMU as a potential place to send their students because it just doesn’t meet the bar for many Jewish high schools.”
Bringing kosher food to CMU will “not only serve the needs of the students of today, but will create a Jewish life on campus,” he said.
“There is momentum going forward,” Berlow added, “and I am very, very confident that it will be happening very soon.”
In the meantime, both Hillel Jewish University Center and Chabad of CMU regularly hold kosher Shabbat dinners for CMU students. In addition, Chabad is offering a free kosher weekday dinner for students once a month. The first dinner took place Monday, Oct. 29, with 30 people attending. Rabbi Shlomo Silverman, co-director of Chabad of CMU, said he hopes the success of the monthly dinners will help demonstrate to university officials that there is a strong demand for a more permanent kosher dining plan.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)