Unfinished Kitchen for Kosher Co-op
As co-opers around campus settle into comfortable routines and cooking schedules, those at Kosher Halal Co-op are struggling together to come up with creative ways to survive the effects of not-yet-completed summer kitchen renovations, which have left them — for the time being – ovenless.
Each year, the ResEd and Dining Services office, along with the office of Facilities Planning and Construction make a list of all the renovations and upgrades that are needed in campus housing and dining co-ops, giving particular priority to kitchen exhaust hoods. Kosher Halal Co-op was highlighted last year as having one of the oldest exhaust hood systems on campus and was therefore selected for upgrade this summer.
“We knew this was a rather large project for the summer, but we fully expected to finish before school began,” explained Michele Gross, director of Business Operations and College liaison to the Oberlin Student Co-op Association.
The Kosher kitchen hood project was unexpectedly delayed last week when it was noted that it did not completely adhere to a new building code. When Kosher co-opers arrived to kick off the fall, the ovens were not hooked up, and there were wires sticking out of the wall.
“Obviously we’re not happy about coming back and finding a kitchen we can’t cook in,” said double-degree senior Hannah Levinson, returning to Kosher co-op for her seventh semester. “But I’ve been amazed by the members, at how adaptable they’ve been. I was worried about how they’d react, but there are still plenty coming to meals despite the abysmal conditions. Kosher is going strong.”
ResEd has provided each Kosher co-oper with nine CDS meals this week to supplement their food supply.
This was not terrific news for College junior and Interim DLEC Zibby Greenebaum, in her third semester at Kosher co-op. “People join Kosher because they want to eat in a co-op, but also because they want to eat kosher. This is the only spot on campus where they can do that. If [our kitchen] is not working, there is no other place on campus for them to go.”
So Kosher co-op has made a compromise. It has continued making food, moving their regular 12 p.m. lunches and 6 p.m. dinners back 15 minutes, so that members could eat in CDS and then return to the co-op for a 6:30 elections meeting.
Although some have taken advantage of the CDS meals, Levinson estimated that 20 of 27 members have still been coming to the Kosher meals.
“It’s hard,” said Greenebaum. “We don’t want the freshmen to get the impression that this is OSCA. We are trying to convince them that it’s not usually like this.”
But the real worry seemed to be preparing food for the upcoming Jewish holy days and holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
College junior and Kosher interim DLEC Shoshana Silverman recalled the chaotic Shabbat dinner last Friday, working around the lack of cooking facilities. About five students and some helping staff loaded two cars with chicken, potatoes and noodles, and drove to Case Western Halal in Cleveland Thursday evening to cook a meal for the normal turnout of about three-hundred Oberlin diners. The cars returned to Oberlin at 2:30 and 4:30 a.m. on Friday morning, explained Silverman, to be set up by 5:00 p.m.
“Kosher is about creating spaces for students [to observe these Jewish holidays], and right now we’re unable to do that,” said Levinson.
Gross noted that the ResEd and Dining Service offices have been in regular communication with the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life throughout the summer and since the beginning of school, and the College assisted Kosher co-op by supporting its purchase of food from a Kosher caterer in Cleveland for the Friday Shabbat meal and the first-year orientation picnic.
But in day-to-day life at Kosher Halal, co-opers have been limited to eating raw foods and taking full advantage of their grill, which is traditionally reserved for special barbeque celebrations. There was much frustration among co-opers regarding the grill.
“We can only cook meat on the grill, no dairy, to keep meat and milk separate,” explained double-degree fifth-year Zeev Saffir, now in his ninth semester at Kosher co-op. “One oven would be okay, one stovetop would be okay, but this is just impossible.”
“We’ve become creative in our meals,” said Levinson, who went on to describe her grilled eggplant and tomato meal. Other dishes this week have included watermelon salad (watermelon, tomatoes and onions), tuna fish bagel sandwiches, slow-cooked pasta and spinach salad.
College senior Benjamin Whatley, in his first semester at Kosher co-op, noted that the nearby workmen had been very impressed with all their grilling, wondering how long it would last into the winter. “We are the true ballers on campus,” he said.
Although Gross regretted the delayed opening of the kitchen, she expected the kitchen would soon be back to normal.
“We believe [the issues regarding the new building code] have now been properly identified,” said Gross. “We are awaiting the acceptance of the final drawings, and completion of the final work and inspections by the Building Inspector and the Fire Chief. We hope that all these steps will be completed by early next week.”
“These delays were definitely unforeseen and the current situation is very unfortunate, but the College and Kosher Halal co-op have been working together to try to find fair and reasonable temporary solutions to the problem until it has been remedied,” commented OSCA president and College senior John Matters. “Although the situation is frustrating, I have been generally pleased with everyone’s understanding and willingness to work together until things have been worked out.”
The upgraded hood will have improved ventilation, a fire suppression system and an additional ten-burner range in the dairy kitchen. As the remodeling called for the relocation of much of the kitchen equipment, ResEd viewed it as an opportune moment to replace the old linoleum floor at the same time. The kitchen now has a new quarry tile floor, which was finished right at the start of the semester.
The co-opers let out a cheer during their interview when the water on the grill started to boil.
“You see, those are the little things that get us excited now,” said Levinson.