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University of Virginia’s New Dining Program Offers Options for Passover and Beyond


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April 12, 2006 --Since the start of the fall semester, Jewish students at the University of Virginia hungry for kosher meals can find them at all dining locations on Grounds thanks to a newly implemented program by the University’s Dining Services Division.

Students can choose from a selection of kosher meals in the all-you-can-eat dining rooms around Grounds.

Kosher food is defined by traditional Jewish dietary laws. It excludes pork and shellfish, some types of meat and poultry, requires that animals be slaughtered in a particular way, and prohibits the mixing of meat and milk. Most traditionally minded, religious Jews observe the dietary laws, though others coming from more relaxed traditions do not.

“The program has been talked about for three years,” said U.Va. District Executive Chef Thomas Fiammetta, who spearheaded the program’s implementation this year. “U.Va. dining tries to fulfill as many student needs as we can within the realm of possibilities, and the need was there.”

There are now approximately 1,200 Jewish undergraduates and 700 graduate students at U.Va., or about 10 percent of the undergraduate student body, according to the University of Virginia Hillel, the local chapter of a national Jewish student organization. Making kosher food available could improve the University’s attractiveness to prospective Jewish students even more, said Fiammetta, who grew up in New York with many people of the Jewish faith.

“We were hearing from a few students that we were losing them to nearby colleges who already had kosher dining programs, such as the University of Maryland, because of the lack of such a program here at U.Va.,” he said.

Currently, kosher meals, which come from A & L Distributors out of Baltimore, are available in “airplane-like” cardboard trays. Students don’t need to arrange in advance for kosher meals and can choose among several options, including turkey, chicken, fish and roast beef. Still, Fiammetta, who formerly worked as the General Manager of dining services at The Jewish Home of Greater Harrisburg, would like to improve the quality and availability of the University’s kosher meals.

“We now have a kosher commissary up and running out of the Hillel House,” which has a kosher kitchen, Fiammetta said.

This program “allows students to avoid being segregated simply because of the meals that they choose,” said Fiammetta. “We view mealtime as a time to relax and enjoy being with friends.” So far, about 100 students have taken advantage of the program, but it is gearing up to serve many more, he said.

Students who have taken advantage of the program have been pleased with the new options. “There has been an extremely positive response from students,” said Fiammetta. “Students at the Hillel House have even offered to help cook the food.”

Parents who keep kosher at home also have expressed satisfaction with the new kosher choices, enabling their children to keep kosher while away at school more easily. So have educators at Jewish secondary schools.

“Just today, I received a call from a [guidance counselor at a] Jewish boarding school [who was] checking to see if U.Va. offers kosher meals,” said Fiammetta. “This program is opening doors for new students to consider U.Va. for their college education.”

In the past, University dining rooms have offered kosher choices during Passover, but for the most part, Jewish students go to the Hillel House for kosher meals during the High Holidays and year round on Friday evenings.

The program, which is open to the public, also will fill a community need for kosher dining options. “The program is not just for students,” said Fiammetta. Thanks to the new kosher food distributor in Baltimore, the University will be able to bring in a larger variety of kosher meals. “Charlottesville is not exactly the Mecca of kosher food,” he said.

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Last Modified: Wednesday, 10-May-2006 10:15:24 EDT
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