Jewish students without adequate provisions

Justyn Hardcastle

Justyn Hardcastle

Members of the Jewish community on campus have spoken out against the University, who do not intend to provide specific accommodation or catering service to suit their kosher dietary needs.

However, for Islamic students residing on campus, halal catering has been introduced in the Roger Kirk Centre as part of the University’s catered accommodation venture, and a Muslim prayer room has been opened over the summer.

Commenting on the lack of kosher catering in the Roger Kirk Centre, Peter Bartley, Chair of the Jewish society ‘J-Soc’ has said: “I think there is more of a hyper-sensitivity when ensuring Muslim students are at ease, potentially at the detriment of other faith groups. I’m not necessarily saying that’s the case now, yet it could very easily develop into such from the current standing.”

In terms of other religious provisions on campus, Bartley has spoken on behalf of J-Soc, welcoming an Islamic prayer room. He has described the “former Islamification of the designated multi-faith prayer room in Wentworth” as “simply unfair to other faith groups on campus and went against any notion of a multi-faith space for prayer.”

Due to a previously low demand for accommodation specifically designed for Jewish students, Hillel House – a four bedroom kosher-specific property co-owned by the University and the Hillel Foundation on Spring Lane – was shut down last year by the University.

Bartley has said that “this in part can be attributed to the poor standards in the previous Hillel House for living purposes as well as the lack of publicity to potential Jewish students”.

Although the University have stated that “in consultation with the Jewish Society, we have agreed there is no longer any requirement for separate accommodation”, some Jewish students believe the future facilities will offer minimal compensation for the loss of Hillel House.

According to Jon Greenwood, Director of Commercial Services, the strictness of kosher laws means that the University do not have the space to provide any kosher facilities, particularly for those living in new catered accommodation within Langwith and Derwent, as it would be a “struggle”.

“I don’t know. Halal is a little less tying to conform to. Kosher is more restrictive.”
Jon Greenwood, Director of Commercial Services

While the J-Soc Chair has said he appreciates the financial implications of providing kosher food in relation to the number of students, Greenwood reasoned that due to having “only one really good production kitchen, we haven’t physically got space” to provide kosher catering. However, the recent introduction of halal catering has gone ahead, despite Greenwood admitting to “a very low turnout of halal customers when it was offered in Costcutter”.

Although the University has reasoned low demands as justification behind the lack of kosher facilities, there are approximately 70 members currently actively involved in J-Soc alone. When asked who he believes the responsibility to cater for all faiths lies with, Greenwood replied: “I don’t know. Halal is a little less tying to conform to. Kosher is more restrictive.”

Commercial Services have considered vegetarianism, veganism, specific dietary intolerances and Islamic students within their catering programme. Greenwood highlighted the example of one female student who has been supplied with her own separate fridge due to a wheat intolerance: “We try to do everything we can.”

Jewish kosher dietary laws do not permit the consumption of meats such as pork, or for certain parts of an animal to be eaten. Meat must not be eaten alongside dairy, and utensils that have come into contact with meat must not be used with dairy.

As there are no shops nearby which cater to their dietary requirements, Jewish students studying at York are forced to purchase kosher foods online from Leeds or Ocado. In addition, these students do not have access to a synagogue in the city centre or to any specific on-campus facilities.

Despite future plans for a smaller location in Derwent College to host a prayer room and self-catering kosher kitchen, it will not include any accommodation specifically for Jewish students. David Garner, University Press Officer, has only been able to confirm that the new facilities will be opening “soon”.

The J-Soc Chair also commented how his society would “very much support the Christian Union having a designated space for prayer or use given there sizable presence on campus and the unsuitability of the chaplaincy building for large scale activities.

“Over 80 per cent of Jewish 18-25 year-olds attend university, and institutions such as York would do well to break into this lucrative potential market through sustained interaction and efforts with Jewish schools.

“The University has a lot to do in terms of attracting Jewish students, as comparatively York fairs poorly to other universities; many of whom have put real effort in only recently and have seen a drastically higher number of Jewish students as a result (notably Nottingham). It can and should be done.”

10 comments

  1. As a member of various christian groups on campus I’ve always found JSoc and Peter in particular very supportive of our work/efforts here on campus so its a real shame to see the Jewish Society treated in such a way. They accept the they aren’t a massive group in terms of numbers yet still this does not justify the university acting in such a way (double standards) while seemingly bending over backwards for muslim students. I completely agree with the hyper-sensitivity point in regard to muslims; just because jewish (and christian) groups tend not to protest and be as vocally aggressive as our muslim neighbours. Its a real shame.

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  2. It’s true that it is more difficult to keep a truly kosher kitchen than it is to provide halal food. Having grown up in an orthodox Jewish home, I’m used to having two sets of utensils, two sinks, and plenty of time and will to inspect all the food that I buy to determine whether it’s kosher or treyf. A caterer on campus can’t do this for me. Halal food, by contrast, is much easier to take care of – you just have to buy your meat from a halal butcher, and that’s it. I don’t think there has been any incidence of Muslim students at York being ‘vocally aggressive’ about halal food, and I find some of Peter’s comments unhelpful. This isn’t a competition between Muslim and Jewish students. Instead of trying to make out as though Muslims are somehow pampered while Jews are neglected, perhaps he should point out that Muslims can eat kosher meat, so the university might as well kill two birds with one stone and order meat from a kosher butcher. The kitchen space issue is a more serious one, and if the kitchens are as small as the caterers say, then it’s doubtful whether they could ever be certified kosher by the Beth Din. I bought and cooked my own food at uni, and even though it was extra effort, it was worthwhile – Yiddishkeit does take effort, people. Let’s not forget that.

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  3. 14 Oct ’10 at 12:52 am

    we have a jewish society :o

    It sounds like the chair is right to be annoyed at this and although I didn’t even know we had a jewish society, he seems fair enough as he welcomes the Islamic prayer room and goes as far as to call for a christian space so its not as if he’s be ultra-jewish in his concerns. Maybe he could have put it better yet suppose he’s concerned for his own society etc. All religions should be treated equally (obviously) and they need to fight their corners when its something so personal and important to them.

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  4. 14 Oct ’10 at 1:54 pm

    Chris Venables

    ‘Bartley has spoken on behalf of J-Soc’ – Nouse should note that he is speaking on behalf of around 4 active members, not 70. The Chair of J-Soc does not speak for Jewish students, this article is misleading is suggesting so.

    Muslims, as well as non-Muslim students, have been campaigning for a prayer space for many years. There is, to my knowledge, no such Christian lobby, they have a prayer space – namely, Heslington Church and More House. Jews never require such a prayer room- to suggest so is totally ignorant of the religion.

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  5. @ we have a jewish society :o “All religions should be treated equally (obviously)”

    Alright, as someone commented on another thread, more people registered as Jedi Knights than Jews in a recent census – should they be given equal provision to express their faith? Likewise, I have just converted to my own one-man religion, Jimboism, which requires me to dance naked to loudly played rap music from 11.00am to 3.00pm in a public auditorium. Should the university provide me with the space I require to express my faith?

    And before you say ‘religions that aren’t made up’… well, that’s opening a can of worms, isn’t it?

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  6. What an amazing picture to link to the article by the way. Does that mean that all Jewish students will have to live on piles of four chairs stacked on top of each other ?

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  7. I am a member of the muslim prayer room focus group, i want to correct a piece of information that u mentioned here, u said that a muslim prayer room has been given to us this summer. This did not happen, the prayer room allocation is on hold up till this moment and we are still stuck with the room at wentworth that caters for 8 students only in a university that has hundreds of muslim students.

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  8. 14 Oct ’10 at 8:56 pm

    not your issue...

    Chris Venables>>>you aren’t even a member of JSoc.

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  9. 20 Oct ’10 at 5:20 pm

    Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they

    This is terrible. Give the Jews the facilities they need. This is discrimination. They have to order food online from random places… ? It’s likely to be expensive and annoying. What can we do to help?

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  10. The comments made by Peter have been taken out of context. On top of this he was speaking as an individual not as a representative of the York J-Soc. The Uni is very supportive of the J-Soc and has just given them a new building at great expense. This includes what will be a Kosher kitchen which will be available for any of the Jewish students on campus. The photo is of the inside of the new building (shortly after moving in) so Nouse must have known that the J-Soc had a new building! There will be an official opening ceremony for the new building later this term. York J-Soc has considerable more than just 4 active members however the 70 quoted (taken from the facebook group) is more than there are. Having said that this year there were almost 50 freshers who signed up…

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