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To offset an operating budget deficit, Harvard University Dining Services has implemented a dining restriction at Harvard Hillel that will curb the number of non-Jewish students eating at the kosher dining hall.
A sign went up on Friday at the entrance of the dining hall, limiting admittance to only those who are “a member or an invited guest of Harvard’s diverse Jewish community.”
“The most important part of Hillel’s mission is hospitality,” said Harvard Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg. “[The restriction] creates conflict with our inclusive and welcoming environment, but I understand HUDS’s concern about its budget.”
Preparing kosher meals at Hillel costs twice as much as preparing other meals in House dining halls, according to Steinberg, who has been in communication with HUDS.
HUDS Spokesperson Crista Martin declined to comment.
The sudden change to the dining restriction has created confusion and even some uproar among students.
“Nobody is happy about it,” said Arun A. Viswanath ’13, former president of Hillel’s steering committee. “This is not a question of who is Jewish and who isn’t, but more about how HUDS is going to pay for the meals.”
Viswanath added that some students are actively protesting the restriction, while others are waiting for the news to settle and planning discussions around the issue.
“It’s very unfortunate that HUDS has to deal with the deficit,” he said. “But I can’t say I support the restriction because it conflicts with our mission.”
Likewise, Sara Kantor ’14, the current president of Hillel, said the decision was an “unfortunate one.”
Kantor, a Crimson arts editor, also added that she worries about some students interpreting Hillel as an exclusive institution.
“This is hard to understand without context, but we want to emphasize that Hillel is an inclusive, open community,” she said.
On any given night, Hillel attracts anywhere between 90 to 145 students, Steinberg said. Because Hillel is “not a community that has a membership card,” Steinberg said that he does not know the exact breakdown between Jewish and non-Jewish students.
Despite some concerns, other students said that they see the restriction as being reasonable.
Hideko Tachibana ’13, a non-Jewish student who frequents Hillel about once a week, said that even though she is disappointed about the restriction, she admits that the dining hall gets very crowded during dinner.
“Hillel is for people who keep kosher, so it’s unfair that those who need it for religious reason can’t get food,” she said.
Tachibana said that she probably will not be dining at Hillel anymore.
Likewise, Jennifer K. Cloutier ’13, who is not a member of the Jewish community, said that those who keep kosher should have a priority in getting food at Hillel. But she said that Harvard should put in extra money to make all dining halls inclusive.
“I want the Harvard community to be an inclusive environment,” she said. “That is the type of culture where I want to be.”
Alex J. Lopatin, a second year graduate student who keeps kosher, said that the restriction would “ensure that [kosher food] is not raided by people who have no interest in being a part of or learning about the Jewish community.”
“We would like a community that is centered around Jewish students,” he said. “We are not just a branch of Annenberg with a Jewish star.”
The restriction, however, raises questions about Muslim students who keep halal.
Ana R. Nast ’12-’13, the president of Harvard Islamic Society, said that a lot of people in the Muslim community go to Hillel for its food. Though she said she cannot gauge the impact of the restriction on the Muslim community because she has yet to talk to people at HUDS or Hillel, she anticipates that she will be able to work on the issue.
“HUDS has been receptive in the past working with us to make sure we have resources in the dining hall, and we have a close relationship with Hillel,” Nast said.
Steinberg added that “Hillel dining hall is a safe and welcoming place for Muslim students.”
Though the sign limits dining hall access to members of Harvard’s Jewish community, both Viswanath and Steinberg said it is unclear how HUDS will enforce the restriction.
“I don’t know how you could visually single out individuals as belonging or not belonging in a community,” Steinberg said. “I just hope we will work out a way with HUDS to make Hillel both a cost-efficient and a welcoming institution.”
—Staff writer Jane Seo can be reached at email@example.com.
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