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FALL 2001 • VOLUME 6, NUMBER 2

BY DAVID LACHANCE

 
 
FRED LEBLANC
  Muslim and Jewish students share a meal in the new kosher/halal dining hall in Wilder.
On a typical day, you might find Naomi Gates-Monasch ’04 and Somera Khan ’04 having lunch together in Wilder Hall, chatting as any two friends would. “Most of the time, we’ll ask each other, ‘How are your classes? What have you been reading? How was your lacrosse game?’ ” Gates-Monasch says. What also comes up is their different backgrounds--Khan is Muslim, Gates-Monasch is Jewish. Through sharing meals, “we learn a lot about each other’s culture and religion,” says Khan.

This fall, Wilder became the home of Mount Holyoke’s new kosher/halal dining facility, a place that welcomes students of all backgrounds, but in particular allows religious Muslims and religious Jews to practice the dietary laws of their faiths. It is one of a handful of its kind on American college campuses. Three meals a day, seven days a week, all food served at Wilder meets the restrictions of both the Qur’an and the Torah. Says Khan, “I take great pride in Wilder. It brings the Jewish and Muslim communities together. We are recognized as cousins--it reminds us that we are in the same boat.”

The dietary laws of Judaism and Islam are not identical, but, in a reminder of the ancient connections between the two faiths, share enough similar aspects to make a place like Wilder possible. Both faiths prohibit the eating of pork and require animals to be slaughtered in a particular way. But Judaism, for example, forbids the mixing of meat and dairy, while Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol. So, at Wilder, neither cheeseburgers nor Grey Poupon mustard (which contains alcohol) will be served. But it’s not what Wilder lacks that draws students so much as what it offers. “One of our students said, ‘We are so lucky to have a dining hall where we can eat without any doubt,’ ” said Sister Shamshad Sheikh, the College’s Muslim chaplain.

The plans for the dining hall began taking shape two years ago, when students presented a proposal to Beverly Daniel Tatum, dean of the College and the author of “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” And Other Conversations About Race. Although Eliot House, home of the College’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, had provided space for a small kosher/halal kitchen since 1989, that facility had become too small to meet the demand, students told Tatum.

With a $250,000 grant from an anonymous alumna, the College this spring began converting the dining facility in Wilder to a kosher/halal dining hall. The kitchen was gutted and rebuilt during the summer and furnished with new equipment. It is now really two kitchens, with separate storage and preparation areas for meat and dairy foods. Color-coded dishes and utensils (red for meat, green for dairy) help ensure observance of the Jewish law that forbids combining of those foods.

One complication threatened the project at the start: The ritual for slaughtering animals is not precisely the same in Judaism and Islam, meaning that meat could not be both halal and kosher at the same time. But the Muslim students agreed with Sheikh’s interpretation that the Qur’an allows kosher meat to be eaten when halal is not available, because both faith groups are “people of the book.”

“While we are tremendously grateful to the Mount Holyoke alumna’s generous donation of the resources to renovate the Wilder dining hall, all the money in the world would not have helped us be successful if we had not had the commitment to dialogue and cooperation between the Jewish and Muslim communities,” Tatum said at a September 13 opening celebration. “It is that commitment and cooperation that has ensured the success of this project.”

“Peace develops as we create friendship and trust,” Efraim Eisen, the College’s Jewish chaplain, told the 100 people attending the opening ceremony. “One of my teachers used to explain to me that in times of darkness, the best thing you can do is pray like mad and plant flowers. This dining hall is a lovely flower, showing the world that here, Muslims, Jews, and all our students can live and eat together.”

So far, “it’s working out perfectly,” Khan says. “It’s very popular,” adds Gates-Monasch. “It is fabulous for those of us who really do care about what we eat on a religious basis.” This fall, Khan’s cousin is planning to transfer to Mount Holyoke from a college in Florida, drawn by the availability of halal food. “That’s a very big deal to her,” she says.

In the words of Melissa Simon ’04, a student who met with Tatum to help plan the kosher/halal dining hall: “I have found Wilder to be a meeting place for students from a variety of backgrounds, and it serves as a forum for students getting together to talk about their differences and their similarities.

“Plus, the food is great!”

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Copyright © 2001 Mount Holyoke College. This page created by Don St. John and maintained by Office of Communications. Last modified on December 11, 2001.

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