The Kosher Co-op (now Kosher-Halal Co-op) was central to my Oberlin experience. There I learned to cook—my first meal of macaroni and cheese lathered with rum extract was not a hit, but later my Thanksgiving turkeys basted with beer and oranges were! There I learned to take responsibility for preparing, organizing, debating, eating, and cleaning a communal kitchen.
One responsibility was preparing the kitchen for the Jewish Passover holiday. The week prior to the holiday, the kitchen needed to be cleaned spotless, eliminating all non-Passover food (meaning anything leavened). My role, together with other committed cleaners (not only my fellow co-opers), was to make the oven racks and pans kosher. So there we were, sitting outside in the spring air on Talcott’s mottled gray stone steps, laughing heartily, with portable blowtorches! We heated the metal until it turned slightly reddish-orange, rendering each pan and oven rack ready for Passover. Cleaning has never been so much fun.
Following the inauguration of a new president, I took initiative of our Open-to-All policy by inviting Oberlin’s (then) new president, S. Fred Starr, to help me cook lunch. Under his purposeful eye we prepared guacamole, and in true fashion of a New Orleans cook, he told me, “One can never use too much garlic” (a lesson to which I still hold), as we laced avocado with large amounts of the pungent root. As we completed preparations, one co-oper arrived wearing an OLGBT t-shirt, making sure that President Starr saw it. Lunch was filled with questions, answers and an atmosphere of welcoming our guest, while making it absolutely clear that he knew who we were and what we did. It took chutzpa to invite the President to prepare food in our co-op, and who knows? Maybe that is why I have chosen public relations as my business. The bonds I made at the Kosher Co-op remain with me today, some 25 years after graduation!