With embrace of kosher food, Pitt looks to expanding Jewish population

With embrace of kosher food, Pitt looks to expanding Jewish population

Students at the University of Pittsburgh can now enjoy hot kosher food.
(Photos provided by Pitt Dining Services)
Students at the University of Pittsburgh can now enjoy hot kosher food. (Photos provided by Pitt Dining Services)

There are some happy tummies in Oakland these days. This month, the University of Pittsburgh began offering kosher food as part of its regular meal plan.

Located inside the retail part of Pitt’s Lichtfield Towers at 3955 Forbes Avenue, students, staff and the general public can now find hot lunches and dinners, as well as take-out items, five days a week.

Jake Gillis, a senior studying psychology and Jewish studies, claimed, “It’s really an incredible change at Pitt.”

Prior to last week’s venture, which is supervised by the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh, Pitt students lacked a regular kosher meal plan. Gillis explained that students who previously desired kosher food either ordered pre-packaged sandwiches or avoided Pitt’s meal plan altogether and shopped for themselves.

“It’s an amazing breakthrough at Pitt because food makes a huge difference for people,” he said.

The need for an increased kosher dining experience was brought to the university’s attention last year.

Abdou Cole, resident district manager of Sodexo, Pitt’s food services provider, said that during a bi-weekly food committee meeting a student representative asked about bringing hot kosher meals to campus.

Cole investigated the matter and contacted various stakeholders, including Dr. Jim Earle, assistant vice chancellor for business at Pitt; Daniel Marcus, executive director and CEO of Hillel JUC; and Zur Goldblum of Pomegranate Catering, who has been operating a kosher food kiosk at Carnegie Mellon University since early 2013. Pomegranate is under the kashrut supervision of the rabbi of Beth Shalom, currently Rabbi Amy Levin. Cole later contacted Dina and Moish Siebzener of Creative Kosher Catering, and ultimately contracted with them.

Cole explained that Earle and the university were immediately in favor of providing hot kosher meals to students.

“Dr. Earle is the force behind making this happen,” said Cole. “He is a big advocate for students and wanted to see it happen.”

Marcus similarly stated, “This came about thanks to the sensitivity of the university.”

In an email, John Andrew Fedele, senior associate director of news at Pitt, wrote, “While we have had pre-packaged kosher food available for years, we are introducing freshly prepared kosher foods this semester. It means that we are consistent in our efforts to address the dietary needs of all of our students.”

Beyond bringing regular hot meals to its students, Pitt enhanced the overall dining experience for kosher eaters. Because the meals are located in the Market-To-Go section of Lichtfield Towers, students may elect to either eat their food in the adjacent dining hall or wrap it up and take it elsewhere. Moish Siebzener explained that these options enable students who eat kosher and students who eat non-kosher to dine together.

Cole noted that a shared experience was critical in developing the kosher meal plan.

“Socialization is important to [students] and we didn’t want segregation,” he said.

Since last week, word has quickly spread about hot kosher meals on campus.

Via Twitter, Pitt Dining services informed its followers of the new meal offerings and their locale.

Hart Levine, who directs the Heart2Heart Project and tracks kosher food on American college campuses, immediately noticed Pitt’s tweet.

“It’s really exciting,” said Levine.

Levine explained that kosher food is a marker for universities in recruiting Jewish students. By offering two hot meals daily, five days a week, Pitt achieved what Levine calls the “gold standard.”

“Pitt is now in a class onto its own in being attractive to Jewish students,” he said.

Rabbi Louis Fliegelman, director of guidance at Ida Crown Jewish Academy, a modern Orthodox Jewish high school in Chicago, advises students and parents on various college options. Fliegelman heard about Pitt’s decision to offer regular kosher meals.

“That day I called the University of Pittsburgh and had a representative come to the academy,” he said. It was specifically because Pitt offers regular kosher meals that he invited the university to meet with the Academy’s 70 graduating seniors.

“I couldn’t bring the University of Pittsburgh in unless I knew there was kosher food,” said the rabbi.

While the stakeholders in Pitt’s kosher dining experiment are pleased with the present, they are looking towards the future.

“We are trying to bring people from all over the country to come to Pitt,” said Siebzener.

“The biggest thing about it is bringing more Jewish kids to Pittsburgh,” echoed Dina Siebzener.

Over the past week, Marcus has told prospective families about the recent advent as well as shared the news with nearly 1,000 recipients on his list serve.

Citing another university with a large out of state Jewish population, Fliegelman commented, “Maryland wasn’t always Maryland. They offered services and the community grew.”

Adam Reinherz can be reached at adam.reinherz@gmail.com.

read more: