An OU Program Brings A Busy Kosher Kitchen To Cornell

104 West! at CornellHigh above Cayuga’s waters, on the beautiful campus of Cornell University with its 4,000 Jewish students, 104 West! (formerly Cornell Kosher Dining), is the only campus dining facility supervised by the OU. This supervision is but one aspect of the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) program at Cornell sponsored by the OU and staffed by this author and his wife, Rivky Ross.

The 104 West! facility is one of many kosher food service operations managed by Flik Independent Schools. According to Flik President Ray Mulligan, “With the OU symbol displayed in our dining hall as well as on all of our retail products, we have eliminated any questions about the level of kashrut we adhere to. Rabbi Joshua Ross, our OU supervisory rabbi, is a pleasure to work with and has guided us through this process painlessly.”

As Colleen Wright-Riva, Director of Cornell Dining and Retail Services commented, “Cornell Dining is delighted to have the Orthodox Union, the premier kashrut certification agency in the United States, present on our campus. The OU brings a level of supervision to Cornell that enables us to meet the needs of Jewish students, as well as others who trust the OU symbol, as a guarantee that their dietary needs are being taken care of. We know that we are one of the few campuses in the country to offer such a high quality program.”

“Through the expertise of our on-site rabbinical authority,” Ms. Wright-Riva said, “Cornell students can be assured that whether they adhere to kosher each and every day, or if they are enjoying the experience during an important holiday, kosher foods are offered in a variety of locations across campus. We are pleased and proud that hot kosher meals are served daily at two locations on campus, 104West! and North Star.”

The Dining Hall known as 104 West!, which is open year round, serves a full dairy breakfast with fresh waffles, pastries, yogurt and cereal, just to mention a few options. Lunch is also dairy and has an open grill that serves up everything from quesadillas to tuna melts. You can have stir fry to your specification, or avail yourself of the regular entrees. Dinner is almost always meat and the offerings range from wings to stroganoff.

On Shabbat, up to three hundred people converge to consume what we consider the best food on any campus, bar none. An additional “satellite” kosher station was established in 2000 to serve the needs of first year students, who are all assigned campus housing for their first year on North Campus, a twenty-minute walk from the Kosher Dining Hall. The station, situated among a variety of other concessions at Cornell’s North Star Cafeteria, serves a meat lunch and dinner. It draws a huge crowd, especially when there is a carving station.

As Adam Daum, the president of Cornell Hillel told me, “Between Shabbat dinners for 300 people and the ability to get a kosher pastrami sandwich anywhere on campus, kosher at Cornell has definitely made a huge positive difference in my four years here!”

The Flik staff also prepares packaged salads and sushi for sale all over campus. LeNorman J. Strong, Assistant Vice President for Student and Academic Services, made it clear that, “Having an authentic kosher program on campus is important to Cornell University’s commitment of providing quality and diversity in its programs and services. Having the Orthodox Union as our partner in developing the kosher program has enabled us to meet our educational and culinary goals. Cornell University has benefited from the expertise of the OU staff. We are looking forward to continuing our partnership as we work to grow the kosher program at Cornell University.”

Supervising all of this food preparation is this author, a campus rabbi employed by the OU’s JLIC program. Rivky and I share the primary goal of satisfying the needs and raising the aspirations of students who identify as observant. A secondary, though also vital goal, is to offer Jewish learning to the larger Jewish community at Cornell. (See sidebar for further details of the JLIC program.)

104 West! is designed to be a serious kosher facility. It has separate dairy and meat kitchens, separate coolers and freezers, as well as a designated pareve room for most baking needs. Attention to kashrut at 104 West! entails opening the kitchen and lighting flames for the non-Jewish staff every morning at 6:45; entering the kitchen at regular intervals throughout the day to ensure adherence to kashrut guidelines; checking vegetables and/or blanching before they are put out; sealing and signing shipments to the North Star facility at least twice each day; checking food orders for kosher certification as they are received; and locking down the facility each evening once dinner has been served.

I also oversee a team of student mashgichim (kosher supervisors) who staff the North Star kosher station, making sure that no outside food or utensils enter the station. In addition, this author is a member of several Cornell committees dedicated to the management and improvement of kosher services on campus. Topics of discussion include promotion of 104 West! and its affiliated programs; pricing of meals; administration of check-in and other logistical concerns.

Another important service provided by the kosher dining program is holiday meals, which are often served off-premises to accommodate larger crowds. This includes Cornell’s Super Seder, a behemoth project for which planning begins in September. A special arrangement was made with the Statler, Cornell’s hotel (Cornell has the best hotel school in North America), where families could stay at a special rate if they were coming for the Seders. A wonderful brochure was designed, and the Super Seder was marketed like a Passover vacation package.

The room was cut into quadrants by balloons and shrubbery, curtains were put up and students were greeted by a giant wave of blue helium balloons on either side of them as they entered the hall. Everyone was very enthusiastic about the aesthetics. The hall was set up to have 40 separate Seders, with 20 people at each table.

The Super Seder was a massive massive success. With over 925, participants we had what was unquestionably the largest Seder in North America. We even managed to get almost the entire room to sing Mah Nishtanah (the Four Questions) together.

Marty Rauker, Special Assistant for Campus Life had this to say:

“Having an OU certified kosher dining program on our campus has been a real catalyst for energizing Jewish life at Cornell. For example, the campus-wide Super Seder on the first night of Passover in the spring of 2004 would have been beyond anyone’s imagination only three years ago. Now we are planning for next year and expect it to be an even bigger event.”

Suffice to say that the success of the kosher program will only continue to grow at Cornell.

OU Kosher Staff