By Elie Kern
In any college basketball stadium, traditional food stands sell food such as hot dogs, pretzels and popcorn. At the Xfinity Center, one stand sells all of these items and more, with one noteworthy distinction: an entirely kosher menu.
Testudo’s Kosher Korner was founded by Rabbi Eli Backman, this university’s Chabad rabbi. Finishing its fourth year, the station is run entirely by Backman, his family and rotating student volunteers.
For Backman, starting the stand was a no-brainer. Keeping kosher is very important to many Jews on campus, and kosher meat is in high demand for those Jews, he said.
“One of Chabad’s goals is to help facilitate Yiddishkeit, and the process of doing that requires allowing students to have kosher food at the games,” he said.
While the Kosher Korner sells classic stadium food, it also sells food that cannot be found at other stations, such as deli sandwiches and falafels. According to Backman, this was an intentional effort to provide the stand with a unique menu, making it appealing beyond the strictly-kosher factor.
Backman said that at the station, there are always a number of elderly fans who purchase food simply because of their excitement over the stand’s concept. There are also consistently people who buy food there without realizing the purpose of the stand.
“I always get a kick out of watching people’s faces when we tell people that we don’t have any cheese sauce for the hot dog or something like that,” Backman said.
Despite its many rewarding factors, there are several challenges to running the stand. Backman said he often struggles getting people to volunteer. While there has never been a game that the station has not had enough volunteers to run, they have come close on several occasions.
“Getting volunteers is sometimes the hardest part, because I can’t do it all on my own,” Backman said.
Senior computer science and finance major Noah Zbozny has volunteered at the station four times this semester, and he said he will continue to volunteer as long as Rabbi Backman needs his help.
“Rabbi Backman has done a lot for me and everyone in the school, so I’m happy to help,” said Zbozny.
Zbozny said that volunteering at the Kosher Korner typically begins an hour before tip-off and ends 30-40 minutes before the game ends. While it can be hard work manning the station, Zbozny said that there is always a good environment, and the volunteers enjoy hanging out together.
Throughout the entire process, Backman said that the university has always been very accommodating. Every time there is a game that falls on the Sabbath, the stand is closed. Despite the fact that being closed on Shabbat may lose them money, the administration has continued to support the stand, Backman said.
Bart Hippel, the assistant director of marketing and communications for dining services on campus, was involved in the initiative from its early stages. Hippel said that the campus dining halls have always wished that they could serve kosher food regularly, but the issue has always been funding the mashgiach (a Jew who supervises the kashrut status).
“I think it’s beneficial to the student body. We know we have a large Jewish student body, and we also know that kosher food is good,” Hippel said.
While a stand like the Kosher Korner could be appreciated by kosher college basketball fans nationwide, Backman said that he is unaware of any school that has a kosher stand like this campus does. Although the University of Kansas and the University of Illinois sell kosher products at their games, Backman said they do it from a portable table, not a permanent stand.
With the 2020 men’s basketball regular season nearing its end, the stand plans to close for the semester after the March 8 game against Michigan.