If the name Marty Perlmutter isn’t already on your radar, it should be. Perlmutter is a New Yorker, son of Jewish immigrants, former Philosophy Chair at the College and has been a faculty member since 1979. He also happens to be the current director of the Jewish Studies Program, and by Fall 2014 he will have a building on campus to commemorate his lasting legacy at the College.
In September 2011, the Jewish Studies Program started a campaign, A Time to Build, to raise $10 million: more than $7.5 million has been raised to date. According to Perlmutter in the Fall 2012 Jewish Studies Program newsletter, the fundraising campaign is dedicated to “secure the long-term future of Jewish Studies at College of Charleston.”
Last fall, the College received a $1 million pledge from a group of donors solely for the expansion of the Jewish Studies Center to be named in Perlmutter’s honor. This expansion will provide more classrooms for the School of Languages, Cultures and World Affairs as well as additional space for the Center for Southern Jewish Culture and the Zucker/Goldberg Center for Holocaust Studies.
The expansion will include the creation of a new dining hall geared toward the kosher-observant and vegan/vegetarian eaters at the College. Students with special eating needs will have a new option to consider.
In 2009, there were talks between the College and the local Masonic Temple Association regarding the possible annexation of a small masonic hall to be used as a kosher dorm and dining room. An article on the topic was written by Greg Hambrick for Charleston City Paper; however, nothing came of the discussion. The new facility will be located on the ground floor of what is currently the Jewish Studies Center. In addition to, its convenient location, all students will also be able to swipe in with their current meal plans
Hillel is a national campus community for Jewish college students, which informs prospective students about the various Jewish programs and provides support for Jewish students on campuses across the country. According to Hillel, the College does have kosher food options available, but for strictly observant kosher students, average dining hall food is met with skepticism.
There are specific rules for eating kosher and not having accurate nutritional information available or a transparent preparation process makes on campus eating difficult. Mark Swick, Jewish Studies Program Community Liason at the College, believes it’s not easy to be kosher in the South, where the dominant religion is Christianity and people are unaware of what kosher means.“Yes, it’s difficult, but not impossible,” Swick said. “Many families do [keep kosher] here. The size of the Jewish community correlates to availability.”
Availability also correlates directly with demand. Most recently, the College has responded to the national demand for more local and ethical food by making the 2012-2013 The College Reads! book Eating Animals by Johnathan Safran Foer. Foer outlines the conditions faced by factory farmed animals in the United States the health hazards they pose to humans (those living near farms and those consuming meat) and the ethical repercussions of eating another living thing. Eating kosher has a lot to do with eating ethically. According to Swick, being kosher, when thought of religiously, is all about having a personal relationship to God through the tenants of Judaism. Those who are kosher-observant have a commitment to upholding Biblical laws. Swick explained, “The idea is that the animal is killed in the most painless way possible.” With today’s food industry, meat that was slaughtered in ways that cause animals the least suffering is far from guaranteed. Safran Foer recounts several cases of animals “living miserable lives and (quite often) d[ying] in horrific ways,” to quote Eating Animals.
It is this, the strict ethical laws inherent in Jewish law, that make ethical eating, vegetarianism and even veganism a type of subgroup that plays into Jewish identity. Alex Hoff, a Jewish senior at the College, doesn’t necessarily think that a dining hall designated to vegetarian and kosher needs will specifically attract more Jews or ethically minded students to the College. Currently, the College has about 700 Jewish students, but this is not reflected by the number of students who show up to the weekly kosher dinners provided by Hillel at the College.
“Most American Jews I know that… keep kosher and now attend college are more than willing to eat non-kosher certified dairy outsides their houses… Jews that only eat kosher certified [everything] often do not attend college but instead religious studies institutions (yeshivas). That being said, having a vegetarian kosher cafeteria doesn’t mean very much to me, and I don’t think it will intrinsically attract more Jews to the school.”
But according to Swick, A Time to Build will ultimately create a “sense of place within Jewish Studies. Meals provided will bring students in,” to the program and get them more involved on campus.