Details, Details: The Making of a Kosher/Halal Dining Facility
If the full recipe for the first night's menu at Wilder Hall were
written out, it would begin: First, demolish your kitchen.
That start-from-scratch approach was necessary to turn Wilder into
the home of the College's new kosher/halal dining facility, one
of a handful on American college campuses that provide for the dietary
needs of observant Jews and observant Muslims. On Sunday, when returning
students came together for that first dinner of baked lemon chicken
or Spanish-style baked tofu, they took part in a meal that had been
months in preparation.
Transforming Wilder into a kosher/halal facility meant creating a
new kitchen in an old building. In accordance with the kosher proscription
against mixing meat with dairy products, a new floor plan for the
kitchen had to be drawn, with one area set aside for meat preparation,
a second for dairy, and a third for parve items-those that are neither
meat nor dairy. It is really two kitchens in one, with separate refrigerators,
ovens, grills, and preparation areas for dairy and meat items.
No sooner had the last student moved out in May than carpenters,
plumbers, and electricians went to work. Over the course of the summer,
they would gut the room, build new walls, lay a new tile floor, construct
new cabinets, and install a full complement of large and small appliances.
The work was largely funded through a $250,000 donation by an anonymous
Overseeing the work was John Fortini, associate director of dining
services. Fortini spent his summer researching the new kitchen's
needs and finding suppliers for the dozens upon dozens of color-coded
spatulas, measuring cups, saucepans, serving utensils, and other items
that would be needed. Because kosher laws dictate that meat cannot
touch items meant for dairy use, and vice versa, two sets of everything
had to be ordered, from ovens to knife racks to dishwasher racks for
drinking glasses and plates.
Screening the list of hundreds of food items the College stocks was
the duty of Renee Kroll, chef/manager of the new kitchen, and David
Norton, assistant director for purchasing in dining services. Among
the items that fell prey to their black markers were Grey Poupon mustard,
scratched from the list because the white wine it contains runs afoul
of the halal proscription on the use of alcohol, and Campbell soups,
which are not certified kosher. Heinz soups are taking their place.
Over the summer, Kroll and Norton spent many hours researching products
It was tedious and detail-oriented work, but Kroll was determined
that every product on her kitchen shelves be acceptable under the
rules of the Torah and the Qur'an. She is no newcomer to things
kosher and halal. For four years, she worked in the modest kosher/halal
kitchen at Eliot House and has in the past catered kosher meals for
gatherings at the National Yiddish Book Center, up the road in Amherst.
After the renovation of the building and the provision of the food
comes a third major component: education. The eight full-time and
six part-time dining services employees who will work at Wilder have
undergone training with David Aminia, the ritual director of Temple
Beth El in Springfield, a Conservative Jewish congregation. Aminia
this spring agreed to be Wilder's meshgiach, the representative
of the rabbi who certifies that the kitchen is kosher, and will make
Students will also get the message that kosher and halal food is
not for observant Jews and observant Muslims alone. One of the reasons
Wilder was chosen was that its 100-seat dining room is larger than
the number of Jews and Muslims expected to eat there. Messages to
be placed on tables in all dining halls drive home the message that
Wilder's offerings will not be limited to matzo balls and Middle
Efraim Eisen, the College's Jewish chaplain, and Sister Shamshad
Sheikh, the Muslim chaplain, expect that there will be many questions
in the dining room's first days, and both are prepared to spend
a good deal of time in Wilder making themselves available to students.
More than simply a convenient way for Muslims and Jews to observe
their relatively similar dietary laws, Wilder's kitchen represents
an affirmation of the religious pluralism that thrives on campus.
It is, in fact, a product of a remarkable level of understanding and
respect between members of the two faiths, one that will be celebrated
in a blessing ceremony scheduled for September 13.
Although kosher and halal laws are similar, they are not identical.
Along with forbidding the mixing of meat and dairy, kosher laws prohibit
eating pork, shellfish, or the meat of any animal that does not chew
its cud or have split hooves. Animals must be slaughtered in a prescribed
way, and all the blood must be drained from the meat.
Halal laws are less comprehensive, prohibiting alcohol, pork and pork products, and meat from animals not slaughtered according to strictures. To be deemed halal, the animal that will be consumed must be healthy, a prayer must be made before its slaughter, and the blood must be completely drained from its body. Although the Jewish and Muslim laws on the slaughtering of animals are not the same, the Muslim students and Sheikh agreed that Muslims often eat kosher meat when true halal meat is not available. That accommodation, an outgrowth of the healthy interfaith dialogue that has become woven into the life of the campus, made the kosher/halal kitchen possible.