Colleges across country offering kosher dining services

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By Susan L. Rosenbluth
The Jewish Voice and Opinion

Susie Rosenbluth

Susie Rosenbluth

ENGLEWOOD, New Jersey — The options for Orthodox-Jewish students looking for colleges outside the New York metropolitan area are greater than they have ever been before, according to an independent educational consultant.

“Many schools with historically low numbers of Jews are actively working to recruit more by building Jewish student centers and creating kosher dining options as part of their recruitment strategy,” says David Twersky, founder of College Link Consulting, a professional practice that assists students and parents in the college selection, application, and admission process.

He recognizes that Shomer Shabbat students who observe kashruth and would like other observant Jews for company have traditionally preferred large, urban universities. Increasingly, he says, they are turning to smaller, rural schools and colleges without large Jewish populations.  According to Hillel International, nearly 25 percent of Jewish college students in North America attend schools with small numbers of Jewish students and limited Jewish resources.

To increase the number of Jewish students on their campuses, these schools are adding amenities that Jewish families will appreciate.

“Admissions officers will rarely say they are actively recruiting Jewish students. Rather, they will speak in vague terms about wanting to ‘increase diversity.’ Many will admit, however, that Jewish students offer great qualities such as leadership skills and good academic records,” he says.

To woo Jewish students, an increasing number of colleges are now offering kosher food plans for students living on campus, he says.

According to Heart to Heart, a group involved with Jewish life on campus, 144 colleges and universities now offer some form of kosher food. More than one-third of these campuses began their kosher programs in the last ten years.

“The offerings range from full meal plans to kosher food available in vending machines. In some schools, kosher food is available through Hillel or Chabad, but increasingly, the colleges are incorporating kosher food into the dining halls and other facilities,” he says.

A geographic listing of schools offering kosher food can be found at the heart2heartproject.org/koshermap/.

Some schools with small Jewish populations, such as Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University and Illinois’s Bradley University, have developed broad kosher meal plans specifically to attract additional Jews to their campuses.

According to Twersky, Washington and Lee University, which has fewer than 100 Jewish students, recently  dedicated a new $4 million Hillel building with a kosher café.

At Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, more than one-third (750) of its 2200 students are Jewish. There, a new kosher dining hall and a 20,000-square-foot Hillel were recently opened.

On many campuses, Hillel and Chabad do more than just offer kosher food. They provide religious services and educational and social programs, and serve as places just to “hang out” with other Jewish students.

Founded in 1923, Hillel is currently represented on over 550 campuses in North America, making it the largest Jewish-student organization in the world.

“Depending on the Jewish population and need at each campus, Hillels can be small or quite large,” says Twersky, who recommends the Hillel College Guide, which is available online, to all students looking for schools.

“It’s a great resource for information on Jewish populations, kosher dining options, religious life, and Jewish studies. Once you’ve narrowed down your college choices, you can contact the local Hillel professional on campus and have a discussion. You can also ask to be put in touch with current Jewish students,” he says.

Chabad, which serves as an Orthodox outreach movement, began establishing houses on campuses in the 1960s. Today, the movement’s Chabad on Campus boasts Chabad Houses and organizations on more than 100 campuses throughout the United States.

Viewing themselves as students’ “home away from home,” the Chabad Houses on campus offer a range of social, educational, and spiritual programs. Often the Chabad House rabbi is well aware that students, especially those with yeshiva backgrounds, are being exposed to new ideas and experiences, often for the very first time.

“Chabad’s goal is to make sure that by the time Jewish students graduate, they are stronger and more empowered Jews than they were when they first enter college,” says Twersky.

Virtually all Chabad Houses offer Shabbat, Yom Tov, and weekday services.  In addition, they emphasize observance of other key mitzvoth, such as putting on tefillin, eating in a sukkah, lighting Chanukah menorahs, and attending Passover seders.

“While students are in the college-selection process, contacting their own local Chabad rabbi can be very important. He can let the student and his or her family know what is offered at the specific schools in which the student is interested. He can also make sure the student receives a welcome packet from the particular campus Chabad House,” says Twersky.

While he will not endorse any kashrut program on any college campus, Twersky says that there is an increasing likelihood that students will feel their religious needs are being comfortably met at a growing number of colleges outside the New York-New Jersey region.

Helping students find the right school—and being accepted by it—is the job of College Link Consulting. Based in Elizabeth,  Twersky offers services such as assessing a student’s academic strengths, challenges, and interests. He then develops a list of colleges for consideration and assists in the application process, including applications for financial aid.

Most students approach him during the junior year of high school, although others start even earlier. Some, however, wait until the beginning of the senior year, and that seems to work out all right, too. Those who start earlier, however, receive the benefit of guidance in course planning, extra-curricular activities, and summer programs.

College Link Consulting, which offers a free complementary initial meeting and guarantees confidentiality to its clients, can be reached through its website, www.CollegeLinkConsulting.com.

“We offer assistance through each step of the application process, review essays, and prepare students for campus visits and interviews,” says Twersky, adding that matching students with campuses that meet their religious needs is part of the process, too.

“High school students and their parents can feel confident that by expanding their list of potential colleges, they will not be compromising their level of observance,” he says.

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Susie Rosenbluth is the editor and publisher of The Jewish Voice and Opinion, a monthly news-magazine that reaches virtually every observant-Jewish household throughout all of northern and central New Jersey and thousands more in neighboring Rockland County (Monsey, Spring Valley, Suffern, New City, etc) and Riverdale, New York. The website can be accessed at jewishvoiceandopinion.com

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