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PRETEND YOU'RE an observant Jew at Harvard. After years of being an undergraduate prisoner to Charlie Tuna, limited to a meager malnutritional diet of Star--Kist and cheese--despite paying full board costs--Mike Berry, head of Dining Services/Mealtime Messiah has taken the first steps to setting you free. You can now be carefree and consume such kosher cuisine as a knish from the Dunster kosher table. For the first time you can be fully integrated into the dining hall scene.
Then suddenly Noel Ignatiev, a non-resident tutor, a veritable serpent in the new Eden, threatens your single, tiny, $40 toaster oven--the only oven of orthodox observance in any dining hall on campus.
Ignative, a strong believer in secularism, asserts that Harvard funding of a kosher toaster oven is a misuse on Berry's part of what he calls "public funds." He argues that the University is spending money to accommodate a certain religious groups, and thus violating the separation between "church and state" (the state being Harvard, the university founded as a theological seminary).
This non-resident tutor thinks that unless students use their own funds to cover the cost of the oven and table, neither should be subject to kosher restrictions, because in order to use this toaster one must adhere to such restrictions, and this is not fitting for a "public" toaster.
As if this weren't enough, Ignatiev widened the scope of his counter-knish crusade at a meeting Wednesday night in Dunster House when he stated that not only was he opposed to Harvard support of a kosher toaster oven, but also of "...Harvard's funding of Hillel meals," referring to Harvard's reimbursement of Hillel's kitchen, covering its costs as it would any other dining hall.
IGNATIEV'S FIRM belief in secularism is admirable, but he unfortunately places it before the importance of having a diverse, yet integrated community. The placement of the financial burden on students who have religious dietary restrictions, be they Jewish, Muslim or any other, would have the possible effect of cutting off kosher food from campus, and would thus serve to segregate what Berry has correctly acknowledged as "a sizable number of Harvard/Radcliffe students" who have the same right to be fed as all other students.
On Wednesday night, someone suggested that perhaps the presence of the toaster and of the Hillel kitchen is a form of affirmative action. There are plenty of other toasters, ovens and microwaves on campus. The kosher toaster is a way of compensating those who have been discriminated against for years because of their choice of lifestyle.
Ignatiev's reply was that "Being Black or being female is not a matter of choice...but keeping kosher is." This demonstrates Ignatiev lack of sensitivity which is harmful in a tutor and an employee of a University that works so hard to make all members of its community feel welcome. His statement seems to imply that those students observing Kashruthave brought the discrimination upon themselves by adhering to their religion, and should suffer a monetary burden (in addition to the $23,000 plus that all other students pay) to free themselves.
Being kosher isn't a choice for observant Jews. The laws in the Bible are clear. The only time you are allowed to break these laws are when your life is threatened. During the Holocaust, the Nazis fed the Jews non-kosher food as a from of psychological torture. They either had to eat the food or die. Most ate the food.
But given the freedom that we have in the United States, why should anyone of any religion be asked to give up their religious views simply because an outsider thinks that they are being "picky"? This isn't a matter of antisectariansm--it's a matter of freedom to practice religion. Ignatiev is challenging the foundations of a religion and trivializing all those who believe in its tenets.
Ignative can argue against all religions, if he wants. But he shouldn't interfere with anyone's practice of religion. It is unbecoming of a tutor to do so. Ignatiev has alienated students in his house and around campus. How is he now supposed to relate to students whom he fundamentally thinks are wrong in their most central beliefs? And how can a student discuss campus life--from the tenets of Marxism to the intramural football team--when he or she knows that Ignatiev doesn't respect them?
IN ADDITION TO interfering with the religion of students, Ignatiev is trying to change the dining service. All students who chose to live on campus must buy the meal plan. Michael Berry's job is to use his budget and feed his students. The way Berry's budget works is that he has a certain amount of money to spend per student as he sees fit.
Berry, in an innovative move, has decided to take the money for students who keep kosher and actually spend it on food they can eat.
Most importantly, he is providing them food in a place where all other students eat too. The "separation of church and state" may be of value in this country, but that doesn't translate to segregating undergraduates. Ignatiev doesn't even seem to believe in "separate but equal." He doesn't want the students who keep kosher to have any benefit from the money they spend on board.
Perhaps if Ignatiev had the chance to meet more observant Jews at meals, he would understand their concerns more--which is exactly what a tutor is supposed to do. Certainly, he should have talked to students before launching into his letter-writing campaign with Berry and Dunster House Master Karel Liem. But he didn't make any effort to discuss his views with the students involved until they invited him to a meeting. If Ignatiev had his way, and students who keep kosher couldn't eat in the dining hall, he would never meet any of these students.
The truth of Ignatiev's "choice" argument is that Black students or female students don't have to pay any more money to go to Harvard than those not in these groups. Students who keep kosher effectively have to pay more for school when they are not provided with the services that other students are--namely, lunch and dinner. Kosher students haven't even made any demands for breakfast.
IGNATIEV WIMPS out with his counter-argument that he is against mandatory board. He is also against taxes, but as a citizen, he must pay taxes on his non-resident tutor stipend. That's the way the playing field in America works, and even Ignatiev knows he can't change that.
The playing field at Harvard is just as rigid, bureaucratic and institutionalized as the American government. In fact, Harvard is even older and more entrenched in tradition. Ignatiev can't shift the rules mid-argument when discussing the placement of the dining services budget.
Ignatiev is stirring up a lot of trouble over a $40 toaster. He is challenging the University's commitment to diversity and integration, Michael Berry's disbursement of Harvard Dining Services funds and the commitment of religious students to their respective beliefs--all in the name of his belief in secularism.
If Ignatiev is really interested in starting a debate on church and state, then he should find a better issue than the pork chop versus the pizza bagel. Doesn't tutor in History and Literature and a non-resident house tutor have better things to do with his time?
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