Hillel Shabbat lunches see lower attendance as upperclassmen dine out

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Students eat at the Maryland Hillel Dining Hall. Jesse Nash/Mitzpeh.

By Eugene “Jesse” Nash
Copy editor
@jessenassh

 

Hillel has recently begun enforcing the price of admission for Shabbat meals on Saturdays, and upperclassmen are now opting instead for other outlets to eat.

Shabbat lunch on Saturday used to be free for all Jewish students. At least, that was the prevailing thought for upperclassmen, until the meal was not free on Saturday, Feb. 2. When a favorite face in the dining hall started to take down names of who had paid for their meals on Saturday, and who hadn’t, sophomores, juniors and seniors of Hillel grew uncomfortable.

While the Hillel website states nowhere that upperclassmen have any right to free food on Saturdays, it has been common practice for years for students who are no longer freshmen to walk through the buffet line without ever paying for lunch on Shabbat. The technology ban on Shabbat that many Orthodox students observe removes the option of using electronic ID scanners, and on a related note, Hillel has never had turnstyles to hold anyone back from eating for free like in traditional campus dining halls.

Until February, nobody was responsible for recording who ate at these Shabbat meals, as writing on Shabbat is also traditionally prohibited.

Still, the enforcement started at the beginning of the 2019 spring semester in an effort to cut down on unnecessary dining expenditures. Most students who are affected by this understand that the enforcement is for a good reason, but some worry that Hillel will only lose money if leaders continue to enforce paying for meals on Saturday.

One Shabbat Crew manager, who remains anonymous because he was not given permission to speak on behalf of Hillel, said that in the past two weeks since enforcement started, attendance at meals has already gone down. In a dining hall that used to fill up during Saturday lunches like it does on Friday night — when dinner is still free — attendees on Feb. 9 filled up only two long tables out of eight.

Other students who still attend Shabbat lunches at Hillel are noticing the change, and some wonder whether the enforcement will really fix the problem of the dining hall losing money. “How much food is being wasted?” junior government and politics and history major J.D. Krebs asked.

The answer: not much, according to Maddie Friedman, the special events and catering coordinator at Hillel. She said dining staff has already adjusted the amount of food served for Saturday lunches to account for the number of students who currently attend.

Then there is the concern that the bonding time between upperclassmen — who are no longer on a dining plan — and freshmen will shrink as upperclassmen opt to ‘dine out’ in friends’ apartments instead of spending time around freshmen.

Sophomore computer science major Matanya Loewenthal said, “It used to be a question” whether to eat out or spend time with friends at Hillel on Saturdays. But thanks to the enforcement lately, his choice has been simple. Loewenthal has decided to spend all his Saturdays dining at friends’ apartments.

Other second and third year students, like sophomore business major Alan Soclof, say that Hillel is now their last choice in Saturday afternoon dining options.

But Friedman said that students had been dining out in friends’ apartments well before the enforcement started. She added that there are still opportunities for free meals on Saturday at Hillel like “lunch ’n learns,” as long as students RSVP first so she knows how much food to provide. Seudah Shelishit, a late afternoon snack, is also still an opportunity for students to bond over a free meal.

Unlike the lunches, Friday dinners at Hillel are covered by a grant and will remain free for the foreseeable future, Friedman said.

She added that the enforcement wasn’t meant to change anything, but rather to “put attention towards” the problem, which is that Hillel eats the cost when students dine for free.

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