Fighting to be a Jew at Hebrew University

UPDATE 12/02/2022: Tanya is now with kashrut-observant roommates. While still extremely concerned given that she is not the only student in such a situation, she would like to acknowledge that the housing department ultimately took action and moved her into a kosher apartment. 

“I will not hesitate to take this further with university administration if a solution cannot be found.” 

I never thought I’d have to fight and threaten to be respected as a religious Jew in Israel. I never, naively apparently, imagined that I would be told to “respect and cooperate” when I told the university that I could not remain in an apartment with non-kosher roommates. 

Anyone who has an inkling of what kashrut means can understand. Kashrut is the most finicky lifestyle, and one wrong action with the wrong spoon can become a major issue. Yes, it is bizarre on the surface level, but it is more than that. The essence of kashrut is not about which dishes go where; it is the strongest, deepest hallmark of a chosen spiritual identity. I choose willfully what I eat; I learn how to implement boundaries in my life; I develop awareness of what separation and unification means. Something so physical is in fact something much more. To not be kosher and not to follow its intricacies threatens who I have chosen to be. 

What disappoints me is that I am not the only one in this position. Other religious, kosher students are equally being forced into apartments with those without dietary restrictions despite specifically requesting kosher apartments. For a university in the Jewish homeland to negate and dismiss religious Jews is not only crushing, it is concerning. 

I am used to explaining my Judaism in a country where Jews are less than 1% of the population. And I have luckily always been respected. But I did not intend to have to employ my experience in Israel, and be reprimanded. One of my current roommates – both non-kosher and non-Jewish in fact– has been extremely concerned about the situation. But not Hebrew University’s housing department. 

I do not expect someone irreligious to understand kashrut, but I do expect them to respect my lifestyle choice and be willing to rectify a situation that should never have happened. I will not be told to “respect and cooperate” when I am in fact the one being disrespected. If Israeli institutions want to pride themselves on diversity, respect and grand liberalism, then something needs to change. However you want to define Israel, this should not be the place where religious Jews find their identities attacked. 

About the Author
Raised in South Africa, Tanya graduated cum laude with a BA in French and Philosophy in 2020. An aspiring academic, she is currently studying for her MA in Jewish Studies at Hebrew University.
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