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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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St. Louis Jewish Light

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    Shellfish dump at Cal frat leads to kosher awareness event

    The AEPi house at UC Berkeley, the grounds of which were recently strewn with shellfish in an apparent antisemitic act. (Photo/Courtesy)

    A version of this story first appeared on Chabad.org/News.

    The dumping of crawfish at a Jewish fraternity house at UC Berkeley last month caused Jewish students to feel targeted, but it ultimately also created an opportunity to educate the community about keeping kosher.

    Earlier this month, the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center held its first Kosher Education and Awareness Day, featuring build-your-own artisan pizzas, raffles and educational carnival games.

    Attended by 125 people, the event countered the vandalism on Aug. 26 when shellfish, the eating of which is forbidden under kosher dietary laws, was tossed on the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house porch and through an open window.

    At first, antisemitism was suspected. But UC Berkeley police investigated and said the vandalism was not considered a hate crime because non-Jewish fraternities were also targeted.

    “It was definitely a big reason we had a kosher day,” said Elijah Feldman, 21, a Rohr Chabad board member and an AEPi member who lives in the fraternity house along with 20 other Jews.

    Feldman, who keeps kosher, said he heard the commotion on Aug. 26, the date of the incident, and then saw and smelled the crawfish.

    The AEPi national office paid for a cleaning crew to take care of the mess.

    “It may not have been a hate crime, but it was an insensitive and ignorant act,” said Feldman, a psychology major who is minoring in Judaic studies.

    “At kosher day, we let the community understand what kosher is so maybe something like this wouldn’t happen again,” said Feldman, whose fraternity helped promote the event.

    “It was a really good turnout. A lot of fun and good food,” said Shay Cohen, Rohr Chabad’s student president and a former UC Berkeley student senator. “Some people have no idea of what it means to be kosher. That’s why we held the event.”

    Of the shellfish vandalism, Cohen, a 20-year-old business major, said, “I think once it became clear that they weren’t intentionally vandalizing with nonkosher food, it eased our fear of being an antisemitic target.”

    Students at the event prepared more than 300 artisan pizzas, and carnival games tested their knowledge of kosher laws. Activities included a chance to dunk the rabbi with a bucket of water as a prize for winning a related trivia game, while a tic-tac-toe game helped define what makes the meat and meat products from animals either kosher or nonkosher. Kosher symbols were used in a dart game.

    Rabbi Gil Leeds, co-director of the Chabad Jewish Student Center with his wife, Bracha, said “we basically took this as an opportunity to turn this incident that left a bad taste in their mouth and a bad smell on their porch into a great educational, fun time and to spread awareness to the greater community that we wanted students to be proud of their culture and observances and not feel intimidated by it.”

    Providing kosher food to Jewish students on college campuses has been a Chabad focus for decades. As far back as the early 1950s, the late spiritual leader of the Lubavitch movement, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson emphasized the importance of providing kosher dining for Jewish students, highlighting the important social environment it offered Jewish students during what can be a very vulnerable and difficult period of their lives.

    Bridgette Meshkani, 20, Greek life liaison for Rohr Chabad, got UC Berkeley’s Panhellenic Council, which governs the school’s sororities, involved in promoting the kosher fair.

    “I think we had a really good balance between Jewish students and non-Jewish students,” said Meshkani, an economics major who helped create activities for the fair. “We were really successful in teaching the attendees about the laws of kashrut and why it’s so important to us.”

    A version of this story first appeared on Chabad.org/News. Reprinted with permission.

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