WE HAD SEEN IT ALL BEFORE. A half-crazed guy full of charisma tells a bunch of miserable folks he's the Messiah. It sounds great and the status quo is terrible, so a lot of people go along with it. Shabbetai Zvi. Jacob Frank. These fakers had a hell of a time pulling the wool over everyone's eyes in the 17th and 18th centuries.
While a large number of Jews cheered the coming of the end of days, it was always the orthodox, the strictest followers of the Jewish faith, who saw through these flakes and would have no part in the celebration. We zealots know how to ruin a good time.
And for students full of this old-time skepticism, it seemed like nothing but full fledged Sabbateanism was slated to emanate from the Harvard Dining Services (HDS) headquarters. From the basement of the Union, new recipes and reforms, original ingredients and innovations stunned and shocked the Harvard community--even more than the smile of newly-installed President Neil L. Rudenstine or the fame of newly-acquired lecturer Spike Lee.
The charisma quotient was more than satisfied as well. The first time I met HDS Director Michael P. Berry, I almost ended up with a dislocated wrist set in a UHS sling as the over-jazzed Mr. Berry nearly had to hand me back my arm after a more-than-vigorous handshake.
No, there is no doubt about it. Michael Berry is the Mealtime Messiah. And, echoing thousands of years of traditional travails, the most orthodox of the Jewish people could not reap the rewards of the supposed era of exaltation. Kosher fare remained the same. All we could do was cry to Charlie Tuna and wallow in the wrappers from the pre-packaged kosher cheese.
The most famous of all false messiahs, Shabbetai Zvi, was succeded by the Star Kist Seafood Company. S.K. was the only way that students who keep kosher could eat lunch in their own houses. As long as the Mealtime Messiah kept the certified kosher label away from Italian Day, late-night exam snacks, and special fancy breakfasts, the kosher crowd kept supporting the solid white tuna manufactures, purveyors of the only HDS entree truly in line with the strictest Jewish dietary laws.
THERE'S ONLY SO much canned fish a person can take. I used to wake up in a cold sweat with visions of Charlie, the albacore tuna, waving to me with that stupid smile on his face. "Sorry Charlie, we don't need tuna with good taste, just tuna tastes good!" would echo in my head throughout the night. Instead of counting sheep when I couldn't fall asleep, I could only see dolphins, leaping over the waves, in the most politically correct of all symbols that, situated just to the left of Charlie on the Star Kist can, reads "Dolphins Safe: No Harm To Dolphins."
With tuna for lunch every day, my tongue began resembling Bart Simpson's whose sitcom principal ordered him to lick thousands of envelopes.
But taste was not the only issue. Public health came into play. After all, the tuna, at the top of its food chain, is known to carry more than a bit of mercury through its insides. Something kind of happens to your appetite when you know the Surgeon General should have tested the mineral levels in your lunch.
To say the least, the kosher communty was fed up with tuna-only lunches. To put matters in perspective, let's say the average kosher lunch consists of two cans of tuna per day. That's over 400 in the span of an academic year. In other Words, I have made words, in the past two and one half years I have made use of over 1000 3.5 ounce Pooling the collective cans of the entire Jewish community could have provided enough law materials to construct new Hillel building (provided Cambridge's zoning laws don't have something ridiculous to say about metal construction). But, it seems, the days of snap-top cans are over.
MICHAEL BERRY has come through. As he had been doing for just about everyone else on campus since the start of the year, the HDS Director has now taken to heart the concerns of Harvard's kosher community. Hark the herald angles sing! Meet the Dunster House kosher table. Appearances scheduled daily at lunchtime.
Opening Day was Friday and the first pitch was received with wide acclaim: "cocktail size" pizza bagels, a taste of Deli Day with (truly) kosher style-pickles and half-sour tomatoes, the requisite box of matzo and a bit of Israeli flavor with Elite vanilla-flavored wafers. Berry really did something right by getting hold of beef franks in bagel dough, produced in Spring Valley, NY, home of Hillel Chair Shai A. Held '94. How better to butter up a constituency?
The house kosher menu will be varied and Berry has promised some surprises. Not only can the question "Where's the beef?" now receive a kosher answer, but so can "Where are the knishes?"
But this is not just a kosher thing, or even just a Jewish thing. To quote Handel's Messiah, this time of revelation brings "good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." Indeed, it is only fitting that the mealtime messiah appear this year, the 25th anniversary of Handel's work. And it seems that the composer knew what he was talking about.
Life up your heads, O ye gates; and be lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the king of glory shall come in. Maybe it's just me, but that sounds a lot like the inscription above the Harvard Yard gates near the Square. Handel has paved the way for Berry to move his office out of the Union basement and into the Yard. Mass Hall had better watch out. But there's more. Look at one of Handel's descriptions of the Messiah.