Responding to the demands of an ever-growing Jewish population, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is expanding a relatively young kosher food program by partnering with the local Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Student Center to test-run a daily kosher offering at another of its dining halls.

If the new hot kosher meals at the Ikenberry Dining Hall, which begin this month, are just as popular as those served since 2008 at the university’s Lincoln Avenue Residence Hall across campus, say officials, kosher-keeping students next year will see hot food at other dining facilities.

When Rabbi Dovid and Goldie Tiechtel first opened the Chabad House in 2003, there were no kosher options offered by the university. But as the Tiechtels expanded their organization, so too did the desires of Jewish students; the quest for kosher food can be seen as dovetailing with the Chabad House’s growth in programming.

Five years ago, the university’s administration green-lighted a kosher dining test, supervised by Dovid Tiechtel, in a single dorm, once per month. Within a year, that developed into the current model of offering kosher meals Monday through Thursday in that dorm alone.

“Right now, eating kosher on campus is a sacrifice,” said freshman Jake Rudolph. “It shouldn’t be that way. It should be an easy option. This is the most vulnerable part of our lives in terms of maintaining our Jewish values. It should be more convenient so people can make fewer sacrifices.”

According to Tiechtel, the university will judge student interest in the new offerings in deciding whether to continue the project in the test dorm. In the fall, it will expand meals at the Lincoln Avenue Residence to include Sundays, and will unveil packaged kosher lunches in all dorms and the Illini Union.

“The message is an important one,” said the rabbi. “Judaism is here, and Jewish life is only growing and will continue to grow.”

Early on, Tiechtel convinced the university’s dining services department to allow students to use their regular meal plans when accessing kosher food.

Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel prepares a dining hall kitchen for kosher use.
Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel prepares a dining hall kitchen for kosher use.

Freshman Josh Cooper hails from Skokie, Ill., and lives in Weston Hill, one of the university’s most popular dorms. Prior to the expansion of kosher services, the Chabad student president chose to primarily eat vegetarian and shop at a small supermarket that sells kosher turkey and hot dogs.

“Everyone is excited about it,” he said of the new program. “A lot of the kids do keep kosher.”

Max Dayan arrived as a student in the fall of 2007 and lived in a public dorm that was a 15-minute walk from kosher food. Now he works as a mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, helping Tiechtel ensure that the food and its preparation adhere to Jewish dietary laws.

“It’s very good food and an unlimited kosher buffet,” said Dayan. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Freshman Scott Elisco sees health benefits in the new offerings.

“Getting more protein from kosher meat will help a lot,” said the resident of Buffalo Grove, Ill. “It’s clear that this will be met with great excitement and anticipation. Hopefully the ripple effect of this movement will ensure the experiment makes way for a permanent fixture of having readily available and easily accessible kosher meals on the school’s campus.”