Jewish students at Georgia Tech who keep kosher no longer have to stick with vegetarian or dairy meals on campus. When school started Aug. 20, they were able to choose from kosher food options now available through campus dining services.
During the first week, the 30 meals for kosher students even sold out one day, said Eithan Martinez, a board member of Chabad at Georgia Tech, who campaigned for kosher food on campus.
“You don’t know how good this feels,” said Martinez, a sophomore computer science student from Venezuela and recently, Miami. Without kosher options last year, he and other kosher students either ate vegetarian in the cafeteria or drove 20 minutes to find kosher options. He knows at least 35 foreign students in a group chat who were in the same situation and commuters who waited until they returned home to eat.
Now Martinez and others can eat on campus with their non-Jewish friends.
Though Hillel and Chabad at Tech serve kosher food at their events, some of which draw big crowds, Chabad pushed this summer for the campus dining services to make kosher food available.
“Parents of students and alumni are really excited,” said Shifra Sharfstein, co-director of Chabad of Downtown Universities: Georgia Tech and Georgia State.
Georgia Tech has about 450 Jewish undergraduates and 100 Jewish graduate students, Hillel reports.
Sharfstein said Martinez brought the issue to the attention of Chabad, saying that some students who were keeping kosher stopped because it became tough to find appropriate options. She cited an example of a student who left Tech after a year “when it was simply too difficult to live a religious life on campus. He implored us to bring kosher to campus. We’ve had many students call us about coming to Georgia Tech and when we told them there was no kosher food, they simply turned down their Georgia Tech acceptance.”
Georgia Tech was already providing Halal (permissible) food for Muslim students, so it was quick to agree to bring in kosher food for Jewish students too, Sharfstein said.
The Kosher Gourmet, which also delivers to Emory University, brings the kosher food to the student union, including sandwiches and dessert.
Martinez said he hopes the options can be expanded, along with the number of locations on campus students can buy kosher food.
“We were surprised at the number who are taking advantage,” Sharfstein said. She keeps in touch with 30 students who are interested in the kosher meals through WhatsApp. Jewish professors also benefit from the kosher food options, she said.
“This new initiative will most likely change the face of Jewish Georgia Tech, inviting more kosher students to campus.”
Rabbi Russ Shulkes, executive director of Hillels of Georgia, didn’t think kosher food was needed on Tech’s campus, but hopes the availability will “serve the larger demographic of Jewish students than what was served before.”
In comparison to Georgia Tech, there are around 1,000 Jewish students at Emory University – about 20 percent of the student body – at least 30 of whom keep kosher. Less than 20 students signed up for kosher food at Emory and less than 15 took advantage of the food on campus last year, Shulkes said.
Hillel at Tech has a Bagel Break every Tuesday that attracts at least 80 students, Shulkes said. He believes they probably come for socializing rather than kosher food. Georgia State has more Orthodox students than Georgia Tech, so he wondered if Chabad plans to bring kosher food there too.
“We would absolutely love to,” Sharfstein said. “We’ve had many requests, mostly from Georgia State parents. We need to make sure it’s successful at Georgia Tech and assess the demand. It’s a commuter campus. It’s a little more difficult to pull it off at Georgia State, but if there’s a demand, we want it to happen.”