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.”