As a school with an estimated 700 undergraduates who identify as Jewish, Wesleyan’s willingness to accommodate the kosher-for-Passover demographic is hardly a surprise. The wide range of kosher-for-Passover options is a particular delight to the Wesleyan Jewish community.
The holiday, which takes place this year from April 14 through April 22, mandates that Jews not eat hametz: any food that contains grain and water and has fermented. This noticeably includes bread, cereal, and pasta. Ashkenazic Jews (Jews of European descent) are supposed to avoid legumes as well.
For some, avoiding these foods also means not using dishes and pots that have once held them. Of course, in reality the range of observance is broad. Some forgo only bread, some carefully regulate their diet, and some continue to eat normally.
“I haven’t ever kept kosher before, but I thought that this would be a good year to try,” said Alexa Wheeler ’17. “Because I’ve never done it before, I wasn’t prepared to go that out of my way to keep kosher. I know I could have if I really wanted to, but because I’m not that observant, I didn’t really bother.”
Yet even those with a more exacting level of observance, such as Mira Klein ’17, found the adjustments to their diet relatively easy to make.
“My dietary observance of Passover is pretty strict in comparison to many students on campus,” said Klein. “[But] keeping [Passover] has not been too difficult for me.”
Director of Operations at Bon Appétit Management Company Philip Abraham explained the lengths Wesleyan goes to in order to ensure that all students are able to respect their level of observance.
“Bon Appétit cooks prepare all the Passover dishes, as well as remove all the leavened food which may not be eaten during Passover, as well as work with Rabbi David to kasher all of the kosher areas. We have purchased special Passover dishes and utensils as budgetary conditions permit,” Abraham said. “Anyone in the community is welcome to support the station through donations.”
In addition to the meals available in the kosher section of the Usdan Marketplace during Passover (two of which were on the weekend, when the kosher section is typically closed), students had access to a limited selection of kosher-for-Passover foods in Weshop, two Passover dinners (one in the Daniel Family Commons, the other in the Usdan Marketplace), a Passover Shabbat dinner at the Bayit, and a Passover brunch sponsored by the Wesleyan Jewish Community along with other Jewish groups on campus and in Middletown. The meals as a whole were praised for taste, though some students critiqued the amount of salt used to compensate for blandness.
Most of these meals required meal swipes, however, and eating from the kosher section entailed that students purchase a meal ticket in addition to a meal swipe. Seven tickets cost four points, or a single ticket could be purchased for one point. Though the amount seems small, many Wesleyan students expressed outrage. While some, like Aviva Hirsch ’16, merely found the ticket process annoying, to others it felt like discrimination.
“When I first heard about the extra cost of Passover food, I was pretty surprised,” Klein said. “I thought it was a blatant way to penalize Jewish students. After hearing the reason for it from the Rabbi, however, I have no problems with the extra charge.”
According to Abraham, “The $1 charge is a nominal amount and in no way covers the additional expenses associated with the specially prepared kosher for Passover foods. It is mostly to control access and ensure there is enough food available for our guests who cannot eat elsewhere.”
The meals themselves have been carefully planned, reflecting that the menu was decided over a month before the holiday. The population of kosher-for-Passover vegans and vegetarians has been especially pleased with the kosher section.
“I think Wesleyan goes out of its way to have vegan kosher-for-Passover food, which is pretty amazing,” said Marya Friedman ’17. She cited specifically the Friday barbeque where quinoa burgers were served. “That being said, it’s still really difficult. I think it’s just inherently difficult to be vegan and kosher for Passover and to do so at an institution where barely anyone else is.”
Friedman, like many others, has ventured into other sections of Usdan for options like salads and beans.
As Wesleyan plans for future Passovers, community dialogue plays a vital role. Student voices have chimed in with various requests: Friedman would like to see almond butter in the kosher-for-Passover line, Wheeler would like to get rid of the ticket charge, and Klein suggests a card be added to the kosher section to let students know why they could not eat there this week. Others would like to see the Weshop selection expanded or have suggestions for certain foods.
Rabbi David Teva, the Jewish Chaplain, has goals of his own.
“For next year, I would like to expand our vegan/vegetarian options for students during Passover. We should consider creating more menus for students who eat legumes (Kitniyot) on Passover,” Teva said.
Fortunately, dialogue is something Abraham stresses, saying, “The Bon Appétit management team is very accessible and open to suggestions.”