By Eva Simeone
A fall-quarter house fire almost put an abrupt end to an experimental Jewish cooperative that enables students to live a traditional kosher lifestyle in college. But out of the ashes grew an even stronger concept.
The accidental fire at 134 Mill St. in early November left the house uninhabitable and placed the cooperative at risk of being disbanded less than three months into the school year. The five second-year students who lived at the house in its inaugural year were left to scramble for temporary housing two weeks before the end of the fall quarter.
Kosher practices require that meat and milk not be cooked or consumed together, and separate utensils must be kept for each. That made the Mill Street home a fitting location because it has two kitchens. The residents were able to keep their meat dishes in the upstairs kitchen and dairy dishes downstairs in order to avoid confusion about which plates were designated for which. ("Kosher" means "clean" in Hebrew.)
During the two weeks they were displaced, four of the residents lived with friends, while a fifth, David Gold, moved into Adams Hall until the end of the quarter.
All of the students found that while they were separated, they yearned for that common bond they had developed through Judaism and living kosher.
"Dining halls aren't exactly kosher," Gold said. "Technically, when you can't see the food prepared, a meat dish could have touched a dairy dish, and that's not kosher."
Lisa Rome said she missed dining and spending time with her roommates.
"When we were apart, I didn't want to be with anyone but these guys," Rome said while sitting next to her roommates in their revamped house. "The separation brought us together, because even though we were apart, we still went to meals together. It ended up being a blessing in disguise."
Fortunately for the students, landlord Felix Gagliano expedited $100,000 worth of renovations to the Mill Street house to ready it for the start of winter quarter.
Now, twice a month in their home, the students enjoy Shabbat dinners on the Sabbath. The typical dinner for the residents is a pasta dish with salad. Each person contributes by providing the main course, salad, dessert or bread.
"The experience actually brought us a lot closer as a family, and we ended up on great terms with our landlord and living in a beautifully renovated house," resident Sarah Soled said of dealing with the fire and its aftermath.
Rabbi Danielle Leshaw, director of the local Jewish organization Hillel, helped organize the cooperative and convince university housing officials to exempt the second-year students from the university requirement that sophomores continue to live on campus.
"We typically don't exempt students from the residence hall requirement for religious reasons, but this was a special case because we knew they would be supervised by Hillel and live in a controlled and structured environment," said Director of Housing Beverley Wyatt.
Four of the five students will remain at the same Mill Street home next year as juniors, although Hillel is moving the cooperative to a new, larger location on Elliott Street. Rome is the only one of the current residents moving to the new location, which will house six students instead of five.
"We definitely see a very bright future for this cooperative," Rome said. "We would like to open up the new house and allow Jewish students and any other students to visit regularly."
Added Leshaw, "The house on Elliott also allows more space for students to host Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations."
Leshaw said next year's residents of the Hillel cooperative already have been selected, and there is a waiting list for future cooperatives.
Students interested in joining a Jewish cooperative should e-mail Leshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org. She determines the most suitable candidates with the help of Jewish students.
To speak with a media representative about this story, contact George Mauzy at 740-597-1794 or email@example.com.