Jews and Muslims at Mount Holyoke

The Kosher/Hallal Kitchen at Mount Holyoke Women’s College, known on campus as the K/HK, has its origins in a conversation that took place between students in 1987. Two women, one Jewish and one Muslim, were standing in line at the dining hall, complaining about all the food they couldn’t eat, when they suddenly realized their respective dietary laws were very similar. (Both traditions have a concept of “permitted” and “forbidden” animals, such as pigs and birds of prey, and both share a notion of ritual slaughter. Notable differences are that wine is forbidden for Muslims, while mixing dairy and meat is permitted.) The two students, along with Reverend Janet Cooper-Nelson (then Protestant Chaplain at Mount Holyoke), and Rabbi Carolyn Braun, worked together with the full support of the MHC Dining Services and administration to create a unique program which opened in 1989: the Kosher/Hallal Kitchen located at the Center for Interreligious activities.

The Kitchen Program is run by two student co-managers—one Jewish woman and one Muslim woman—who work together to fulfill various responsibilities, one of which is to create a menu that appeals to both communities on campus. Working closely with the kitchen chef, they plan kosher/hallal meals for weekly Wednesday dinners, every other week Shabbat dinners, and special meals for holiday observances such as Passover, Iftar (the breaking of the daily fast during Ramadan) and Id (the celebration at the end of Ramadan).

The two managers also create and organize a weekly series of educational programs that accompany the Wednesday night dinners to help foster dialogue between the Muslim and Jewish communities. These programs also help to educate other Mount Holyoke women about various cultural and religious aspects of Judaism and Islam, and issues and concerns that affect both Jews and Muslims. Some topics that have been discussed in the K/HK in the past year: “Twice Blessed? Being Jewish/Muslim and Being Lesbian;” “Palestinian Elections on the West Bank and Gaza: Prelude to a Palestinian State?” “The Music of Nusrat: Islamic Devotional Sonnets” and “The First Annual Latke-Hamentashen Debate.”

Barb Kallin, the Jewish student co-manager, says that “The Kosher/Hallal Kitchen has allowed me to talk to and learn from other women who are, I’ve found, as similar to me as they are different. I think learning about each other’s lives and cultures is more important now than ever. It’s been wonderful to see just how many people have come to take part in the discussions, to listen, and of course to eat!”

The Kosher/Hallal dinners provide a welcoming, warm, and comfortable environment for students, faculty and staff on campus. As a senior, I am going to greatly miss the K/HK, it was really a second home for me and I know for many other students. The K/HK is much more than just a place to observe similar dietary laws: it brings together two communities that share rich cultures.