Oberlin College Opens Certified Kosher Kitchen

April 20, 2021

Scott Wargo

Aerial image of Talcott Hall
Photo credit: William Bradford

Oberlin College will broaden its commitment to Jewish life and scholarship this May when it becomes one of only a handful of liberal arts colleges throughout the country to offer students a certified kosher kitchen experience. 

“This has been a long time coming and it was a collaborative effort that made this happen,” said President Carmen Twillie Ambar. “AVI Fresh, Chabad at Oberlin, and Oberlin Hillel have been wonderful partners in this process and we are so excited for this new community space where students can come together for a meal and explore cultural experiences through food and conversation.”

Three people standing should-to-shoulder in commercial kitchen
Rabbi Megan Doherty, director of Hillel and Jewish Campus Life, Devorah Elkan and 
Rabbi Shlomo Elkan, co-directors of Chabad at Oberlin. Photo credit: Yvonne Gay

AVI Fresh is finalizing details on a partnership with Chabad at Oberlin and Rabbi Shlomo Elkan, who will serve as the kosher administrator and certify Heritage Kitchen as kosher. “Having an organization that understands and is invested in the culture of this college aids in the journey of certification,” says Lilkeisha Smith, AVI Fresh director of operations for Oberlin College. “I believe we share the same goals of bridging culture and a safe space for seeking spiritual identity through food. I’d like to think of this partnership as a collaboration of knowledge and how together, we hope to tell this beautifully woven story of a rich heritage through food.”

Rabbi Shlomo and Devorah Elkan serve as co-directors of Chabad at Oberlin, which opened its doors in the fall of 2010. “A rabbinically certified dining option opens up Oberlin as a choice for people who could never have attended the college previously without compromising their religious values and standards,” says Rabbi Elkan. “It honors Oberlin's commitment to diversity and fostering religious and spiritual communities in their length and breadth. This also brings promise for new conversations and new perspectives to be added into the tapestry of discourse and Oberlin College.”

With approximately 23 percent of Oberlin students identifying as Jewish, the college recognized there was a need to expand its dining options. Third-year student Jesse Noily believes the opening of Heritage Kitchen will allow him to be more connected with campus life and still adhere to his faith. 

“As a part of Oberlin’s religious Jewish community, a certified kosher dining option feels like a huge step in helping me and students like me engage fully in campus life,” says Noily. “I’m grateful to both the administration and Rabbi Shlomo for all they’ve done in aiding this process and I look forward to seeing how this initiative will help to allow students from all backgrounds to engage in their Jewish identity and practice.” The opportunity for all Jewish students to eat together in one place is important to third-year Noah Plotkin, who was concerned about possibly having to change his housing and dining plans in order to keep kosher. “I was afraid I would have to move off campus, but the kosher kitchen certification allows me to continue to eat with my friends and community.”

Heritage Kitchen will meet the demand to provide a kosher menu to 400 students per week and will be available to all students through the college’s dining meal plan. While the menu will be designed for people who keep kosher, it will be open to every student and it also will meet the needs of many Muslim students.

“It is wonderful that Oberlin has committed to meeting the dietary needs of all students, including those whose religious practice requires a specific standard of kashrut—adherence to the Jewish dietary laws, says Rabbi MeganDoherty, director of Hillel and Jewish Campus Life. “I am so excited to have a certified kosher kitchen on campus that will operate on the same schedule as the dining halls and be open to all students. I can't wait to see what kind of communities and educational opportunities can be built with this new resource.”

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