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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The difficulty of keeping Passover at Carleton

<y year since turning 13 and becoming a Jewish adult, I have kept Passover. At least, that used to be true. Hard as I tried, I didn’t last three whole days here at Carleton. There are many reasons for this, each of which might not be a problem on its own, but which together conspire to make keeping Passover here even more difficult than observing the Yom Kippur 25-hour fast.

First, it may be helpful to define the Passover observance. Passover, or Pesach, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the biblical Israelites’ liberation from slavery. To honor this story, we Jews abstain from leavened wheat, oats, rye, barley, and, for some reason, spelt. Don’t ask me what spelt is.

In practice this means that the only starches we can eat are corn, rice, potatoes, and of course matzo, that hideous, dry, tasteless paste of a cracker that goyim seem to love in small quantities.

Many Ashkenazi Jews, those from Eastern Europe, take this practice a step farther and block out legumes, corn, and rice in addition to the five forbidden grains. This was always too much for me—I’ve always been thin and a picky eater so I can’t afford to miss all those carbs. However, the practice is far from rare, particularly as most Jews are Ashkenazi in origin.

You may be beginning to see the problem. With so few food options already available on campus, these additional dietary restrictions all but require us to eat specific foods over the course of the holiday. (And this is on top of normal Jewish dietary law, which is already difficult to follow because the dining halls don’t label kosher food. The same is true for halal food.) I live in Goodhue, and as such, almost always eat at the LDC. I don’t have time to go to Burton for meals. As a result, I can only speak to the common experience of dining at the LDC during Passover.

As I’ve told other Jewish Carls my decision this year, ashamed, they’ve expressed only empathy. They recognize as well as I do how hard it is to keep Passover here. At home, we have the advantage of kosher grocery stores, kitchens, and slews of restaurants to choose from, but here, we’re mostly reduced to the good old LDC and Burton.

Observing Passover here is, in a word, difficult. For breakfast, the only real options are potatoes, eggs, fruit, vegetarian sausage, matzo, and maybe some cereals, depending on your practice. And for vegans, eggs are out of the question. That leaves precious few sources of calories to carry one through the day.

Lunch and dinner are hardly better. Most of the food at Chopsticks and Woks, American Regional, Cucina and the bakery contains grains, which leaves most of Wild Thymes and the rice at Chopsticks (and again, the rice isn’t always guaranteed). What food is kosher for Passover often lacks enough calories—the few caloric counterexamples I can think of are the ever-overcooked chicken, French fries, and whatever entree Wild Thymes has.

Given how many options there are in the dining hall as a whole, this is unconscionable. Jewish students make up roughly ten percent of Carleton, and many of them observe Passover, yet the school has largely failed to accommodate them for these eight days. This is especially true for students, like me, who are on the 15-meal plan. Theoretically, Sayles would be the source of the week’s missing five meals, but Sayles does not offer one entree that doesn’t contain grains. Thus these meals must come from other sources.

There are two seders (Passover meals and services) each term, but they are lengthy. Not everyone can afford to sit through an entire service just for a free meal. In addition, Page East, the Jewish interest house on campus, has an open kitchen to Jewish students observing Passover throughout the holiday, but that too requires time. Even worse, Page takes about eight minutes to walk to from Goodhue, and making food once there takes even longer. This is hardly an accommodation for a student rushing between activities.

I learned all this from experience. For my first two and a half days of Passover this term, I tried to follow along. But I underrate at every meal because of the lack of high-calorie options, and mere minutes after finishing my meal I would be hungry again. To make matters worse, hunger exacerbates my anxiety. After two days of under-eating, I was so anxious I could hardly focus. My appetite disappeared. Then, after lunch the next day, I threw up my meager meal of rice, fries, and chicken. I think a passing tour group may have seen me.

That was my wake-up call. Jewish law, for all its restrictions, insists on individual health and safety above all other practices. So I stopped observing Passover. But that should never have happened to begin with. On a residential campus, I expect my meal plan to cover my dietary needs. Yet for over a week, one thirtieth of Carleton’s academic year, this was not true.

Considering Carleton’s large Jewish population, its commitment to inclusiveness and its already overpriced meal plan, it seems only just that we receive accommodations for Passover. It would not be difficult. And it would certainly help a lot of people, not just myself. So the only real question is, why not? Hopefully this will not become an annual conversation for Carleton’s Jewish population. Perhaps all it would take is a little push, a reminder that we’re here too. Bon Appetit has comment cards. I encourage all of you to fill them out and request more kosher for Passover options. Because as any Jew will tell you, eight days of matzo isn’t something to wish on anyone. 

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