Students Tap into Flourishing
Jewish Community at Smith
By Kristen Cole
Princeton University had long beckoned to Rachel Rubenstein
-- that is, until she visited Smith and the smart, articulate and passionate students
got her ear.
Although Smith did not yet have some of the facets
of Jewish life sought by Rubenstein, the daughter of rabbis who eventually wants
to go to rabbinical school herself, she was won over by what she heard about the
college’s vibrant Jewish community and Jewish studies program.
That was three years ago. Today there are even more
reasons for prospective Jewish students to come to Smith, including the two that
fulfill Rubenstein’s wish list: kosher-halal dining and study in Israel.
Now for the first time Smith students are able to enjoy
kosher food prepared in a campus dining room, in addition to the vegetarian kosher
co-operative that has long been available. And for the first time since 2001, when
Smith halted the junior year abroad program to Israel because of security concerns,
three students -- including Rubenstein -- are studying there.
Rachel Rubenstein. Photo by Jim Gipe.
Both of those changes are critical to attracting a
diverse group of Jewish students to the Smith community, says the 20-year-old physics
major. They are factors considered by many Jewish families in determining if a campus
is supportive of Jewish students.
“We are a small community with very diverse needs,” Rubenstein
says. “I hope we become a community that really helps people to meet their
needs and engage with their Judaism in whatever way they are comfortable.”
For those wanting to minor in Jewish studies, the program
is thriving, says Assistant Professor Justin Cammy. Cammy is one of more than a half-dozen
faculty members on the Jewish advisory committee, which is now celebrating two decades
of a Jewish studies minor at Smith. The program is enhanced by the Five College exchange
and the proximity of the National Yiddish Book Center (see sidebar).
“We are much broader and deeper than the Jewish
studies programs at most other liberal arts colleges and many universities,” says
Cammy. “With more than a dozen students in the minor at any one time taking
courses with experts in Hebrew Bible, Jewish history and thought, modern Jewish literature
and Israel studies, we see ourselves as a program that covers four thousand years
of Jewish experience.”
For students who want to enhance their education by
studying in Israel, that option is also now available. This year Smith joined a handful
of the nation’s colleges and universities that decided to offer the opportunity
to their students despite a State Department warning.
For those who want to participate in Jewish life in
the community, Northampton offers three synagogues. Further, Smith has had a Jewish
chaplain presence for some 50 years -- longer than many of its peer institutions.
Earlier this summer, Rabbi Bruce Seltzer (right) and
kosher supervisor Joe Morse-Mashgiach, representing the Vaad Ha-Kashrut of
Springfield, spent time kashering equipment to make the renovated Cutter-Ziskind
kitchen kosher. Photo by Fish/Parham.
For students who want to adhere to a kosher-halal diet,
Smith designed a new kitchen and servery in the Cutter-Ziskind dining hall. That
change was in response to the recent dining review, which articulated the goal of
providing students a more diverse menu, as well as to demand from students over the
past few years, says Smith College Rabbi Bruce Seltzer.
Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday and
one meal on Sunday, the Cutter-Ziskind kitchen serves kosher meals along with traditional
menu items. Separate meat and dairy kitchens prepare strictly kosher meals under
rabbinic supervision. The entire dining hall will also be pork and alcohol free and
meals including red meat will be supplemented by halal meat that meets the highest
standards of Muslim dietary laws. (See http://smithkosherdining.blogspot.com.)
Separately, the student-run cooperative kosher kitchen,
located in Dawes House, will continue to offer vegetarian meals on Friday evenings.
One of the most attended ongoing cultural or religious events at Smith is Shabbat
dinner each Friday at that kitchen, says Seltzer.
“The co-op kosher kitchen provides a student
community and cultural space and opportunity for expression through cooking,” Seltzer
says. “The kosher dining hall provides for diversity and serves the religious
needs for the college as a whole.”
In a twist of fate, after Rubenstein spent the summer
at Smith helping to establish kosher dining and educate the community about the new
option, she will miss its formal dedication during Family Weekend because she’ll
be exercising her other new option: study in Israel. Rubenstein is now at the Ben
Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva.
Yet in addition to both of the changes that Rubenstein
is taking advantage of, says Cammy, one of the most important reasons for Jewish
students to come to Smith is the original reason that attracted her: the students.
“What does a teacher look for in a student?” he
asks. “Intelligence, passion and a desire to make a difference -- Smith students
have all of those.”
Smith’s kosher-halal kitchen opened at the beginning
of the semester. Students can now get kosher and halal meals along with traditional
fare in the Cutter-Ziskind dining room. Photo by Jim Gipe.