By James Hartner
Kosher dining runs dry around College Park. While the only place to grab a real kosher meal is the Hillel dining hall at this university, there are still attempts to branch out.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Maryland Hillel has changed its methods of gathering and distributing kosher products to students. Eitan Galper, a junior mechanical engineer student and treasurer for Kedma, the Orthodox community on campus, organized a solution to make kosher food more accessible by having weekly delivery service from Moti’s Market, a kosher grocery store located in Rockville.
According to Daniel Reeve, a customer service provider for Moti’s, the grocery store started doing deliveries around the time the virus had hit.
“We’ve never done a delivery service before like this that’s all online, so it was completely new for us,” said Reeve. “This started right when COVID happened, we did something for Passover and after that, people kept asking for things.”
It didn’t take long for Moti’s to accommodate the students at this university. Reeve said that the first delivery date for Maryland Hillel was Aug. 27 with weekly shipments every Thursday since then. Galper has also mentioned that there has been a rise in student interest in this initiative.
“In the beginning, we were getting 10 orders a week,” Galper said. “Now we’re averaging like 20 orders a week.” He explained that a student can order anything on the Moti’s website to be delivered to the Hillel building. Kedma and Moti’s struck a deal to have no delivery fee for the students as well. Students pay for what they want, and the only side charge is a $3 fee to support Kedma.
Moti’s packages custom orders for individual students, who select their items online. When the orders are delivered to Hillel each Thursday, students have a pickup period from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
“You pay for whatever you want, on your own, online, and you’re basically placing an online order and it comes together,” said Ari Israel, a junior electrical engineering student who has utilized these deliveries. “It just comes each in individual boxes for each person.”
Unfortunately, COVID-19 still resulted in many restrictions in the Hillel dining hall itself. Hillel had to restructure their buffet system to meet the restrictions from the virus. Israel said that Hillel implemented outdoor seating this semester, since indoor seating has been mainly blocked off. Hillel even switched catering providers, he said. Students who do not live in dorms are stuck in their apartments most of the day and will cook for themselves, so many have chosen not to use Hillel’s dining service.
The outdoor seating is a vital initiative for Hillel-goers. According to Daniella Bloch, a junior public health science major, eating meals at the dining hall was the best way she gained friends when she was a freshman. Since outdoor seating is the best option now, Bloch explains that freshmen eat out there all the time.
“I’m not on a meal plan…but I can definitely see why people feel less comfortable eating inside,” Bloch said. “[Hillel] set it up pretty well.”
According to Maryland Hillel, this university is home to 5,000 Jewish undergraduate students. That is around 19% of the undergraduates at this university. With only one kosher dining hall around, there is a tight-knit community surrounding kosher food as many Orthodox students live in the apartments surrounding Hillel.
Also, Israel and Bloch agreed that Hillel has done a great job with accommodating students this year amid the virus’ challenges.
“Having kosher food on campus is very vital to having a Jewish community and Hillel is the only place you can get that now, and it’s pretty amazing that they’re able to supply,” Israel said.
In the future, Galper still plans to keep Moti’s delivery service to the Hillel building, especially with the rise of COVID-19 cases and the continuing uncertainty.
“It reduces any contact point you could have with someone and become exposed, so that’s why it is important this semester,” Galper said. “Even when it ends, we’ll definitely still continue doing this, just because of the convenient factor.”