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ISSUE 120 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/29/2006

Jewish Honor House offers kosher haven

By David Henke
Variety Editor

Friday, September 29, 2006

This past Saturday, the smell of good, kosher cooking filled the kitchen at the Aaker House. This year the honor house is home to the Jewish Outreach Program, which celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year on September 23.

Rosh Hashanah occurs over the first two days of the Jewish month Tishrei. The celebration denotes the beginning of 10 days of repentance and introspection,the end of which is marked by the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. This year, the holiday began on Friday Sept. 22nd. It is the only two-day holiday in the Jewish calendar.

“It's considered to be the birthday of the world,” said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan ‘09, a member of the St. Olaf Jewish community. “Rosh Hashanah is as important for us as Easter is to the Christian faith.”

Freedman-Gurspan began the dinner on Saturday night by reciting the Havdalah–a prayer that formally concludes Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. Shabbat begins before sundown on Friday and is observed until after sundown on Saturday.

Freedman-Gurspan and Hayley Wender '07 lit candles to symbolize the light of creation, while Anna Freedman '07 served matzah ball soup for the first course of the dinner.

Matzah balls are traditional Jewish dumplings made by grinding up matzah meal, a flour-like product. To make the soup, the residents of Aaker House simply immersed the matzah in a lightly-seasoned broth.

“It's basically the Jewish equivalent of chicken noodle soup,” Wender said.

The dinner also included challah, the same type of traditional bread that the Jewish exiles from Egypt supposedly carried with them when they entered the Sinai Peninsula, and gilfilte fish, a de-boned and ground kosher fish recipe.

For dessert the house served apple slices dipped in honey, a food that has come to represent wishes for a sweet new year. Freedman, Wender, Freedman-Gurspan, Wheeler and Jake Busch '09 prepared the delicious three course kosher dinner.

The kosher kitchen at the Aaker House is at the center of several activities and services that the Jewish Outreach Program provides.

“Our selling point [for the honor house program] was really the aspect of home that we provideo, and the kosher kitchen,” Wender said. She and Freedman have dreamt of having a kosher kitchen on campus since they met in Stav Hall as first-years. At the end of their first year at St. Olaf, Freedman and Wender held a Shabbat with other Jewish students, but they still did not have a central location where they could meet to observe holidays or ceremonies.

Wender and Freedman are the only Jewish residents of the house, but their housemates, Katherine Oyster '08, Catherine Wheeler '07 and Camryn Reynolds '09 have assisted in planning and carrying out house activities.

To maintain a kosher kitchen, the members of the Jewish Outreach Program must store all of their milk and meat products separately and, as a result, must be very aware of the contents of a number of food products. Even plates and utensils used to serve meat and milk products must be stored separately. In addition, cattle and other animals must be slaughtered and prepared according to specific Jewish custom. Meat from some animals and seafood, including pork and any sort of shrimp or shellfish, is entirely forbidden.

“Kosher isn't extremely challenging,” Freedman-Gurspan said. “You just have to be aware of what you're buying.” The members of the Jewish Outreach Program often shop in the kosher section of Cub Foods, but when it comes to traditional Jewish dishes, they often improvise.

“We have to make it as realistic as we can based on our situation,” Freedman-Gurspan acknowledged.

The Jewish Outreach Program observes the Shabbat every week and is also planning on hosting several cultural films and lectures concerning Judaism.

“We're an outreach for Jewish students–serving those needs is our primary goal,” Freedman said.

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