By Yelin Jung
For the Mitzpeh
A man with rectangle-shaped glasses removed vegetables from a basin and poured the excess water through a thin white cloth. He examined the sheet over a light box using a magnifying glass. “It’s alive,” he said.
Rachamim Fakheri, a mashgiach in Maryland Hillel kitchen, checks vegetables for insects every day while preparing meals for students. If he finds any bugs in the produce, he should start the process all over again to inspect that it is clean under the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut called kosher.
“All the leaf vegetables have to be checked to make sure there are no insects in them,” Fakheri said.
The Hillel provides kosher meals for students every day as the only kosher facility at the university, Fakheri said. They have two separate kitchens—the meat kitchen and the dairy kitchen—a dryer storage room, and a refrigerator.
“We are not allowed to mix meat and dairy together, even cook together, or serve [them] together,” he said.
Fakheri has worked in the kitchen for 18 years. As the mashgiach, his roles are to check all foods that come in the kitchen under the standards, to order foods and utensils, and to train employees who are not familiar with kosher.
“I have to inspect them to make sure they are up to our standards as far as the kosher goes and make sure all have symbols that need to have,” Fakheri said.
Checking symbols on products is one of the most significant processes in the kitchen, he said. The kitchen follows the rule of Vaad Harabanim of Greater Washington, Fakheri said. The Orthodox Union—called OU—and the Star-K are the most well-known kosher certification agencies to approve the products with their own symbols, he said. Under the supervision and symbols, he orders and uses products to prepare the meals.
“If I have a new kosher product that comes in with a different symbol, I would call them and find out if that’s acceptable or if that’s to their standard,” he said. “I will go [with] that.”
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Fakheri said preparing for Passover is the most stressful part as the mashgiach.
“We are dealing with regular inspect of the kitchen that we are running the breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” he said. “At the same time, we have to check to make sure that all the food that comes in are kosher for Passover.”
He said vendors will have the same pressure, saying he had a previous experience with one of receiving a couscous for Passover that wasn’t certified kosher for Passover.
“If we use even a small amount of that couscous, the whole kitchen cannot be used for Passover,” Fakheri said. “So it’s very critical to make sure that all the things that comes in is up to the part for the kosher for Passover.”
Students who visit the kitchen understand well about kosher.
Abigail Weinberger, a junior dietetics major, said she comes four times a week to eat the kosher food. She also keeps kosher in her house.
“It’s like the same as I’ve learned,”Weinberger said.
Freshman philosophy major Mikey Pollack said he is on Hillel’s full meal plan and knows a lot about keeping kosher. He said pig is not allowed to use in the kitchen, and milk and meat cannot be cooked together. Kosher kitchens should use separate dishes, Pollack said.
David Wildes, a junior information systems and business analytic major, said he comes to the Hillel kitchen almost every day.
“Everything has to watched by the Jewish person,” Wildes said. “If it’s not being watched always by the Jewish person, then it can’t be kosher.”
Hillel’s kitchen offers dairy menus on Sundays and Tuesdays and meat menus on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. They are open for breakfast from 8 to 9:30 a.m., for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and for dinner from 5 to 7 p.m. Students can also make arrangements to pick up kosher food at Hillel.
Fakheri commutes from Pikesville in Baltimore County every day. Even though it takes more than one hour, everything happened in the kitchen is impressive and blessing, he said. He also hopes to make this kitchen a better cafeteria for students.
“I’m sure that there’s always room to improve,” Fakheri said. “You can make this stuff better.”