Sitting by the candle lights and surrounded by the people I loved, I experienced my religion — Judaism — as a culture of warmth and comfort.
Growing up, Friday nights at my home were a time of decompressing from a week’s worth of work, a time I could spend with family without worrying about everything else going on around us in the world. But coming to Pitt as a first-year on a city campus with bustling streets and thousands of different students with different backgrounds, I’ve found it challenging to make Friday nights feel the same.
For me, the commencement of college brought on a major culture change. Coming from a religious Jewish background, my family instilled certain practices and beliefs since I was born. One of the traditions of Judaism I connect with most easily — and on a regular basis — is the food. Food is a major part of Jewish culture, and is always a core factor in the celebration of different holidays.
While I kept Kosher at home, I’m not so strict with it that I wouldn’t be able to eat in Market or the local restaurants around campus. But since I’ve arrived here, I have eaten almost every meal at the Kosher section of Market To-Go.
Even though I am not someone who often gets homesick, I certainly miss the feeling of being in a community where everyone around me shared the same traditions and beliefs. But every time I walk into the Kosher section of Market To-Go, I get a part of that community back.
Back home, holidays would include a ceremonious gathering at the local synagogue. It consisted of a large group composed of my closest friends, family and community members — all joined together in song and prayer. We shared warm embraces and joyous laughter constantly. While I have met other Jews at Pitt, the experience is much less intimate than it was where I come from.
The Kosher section at Market To-Go imports food from Milky Way, a Jewish restaurant on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill. The restaurant serves meals Monday through Friday, and offer dairy for lunch and meat for dinner, separating the two due to Kosher guidelines — something they also do at their Pitt location.
Moshe Tombosky is the rabbi who oversees the food and makes sure it is being properly taken care of according to Kosher restrictions. He has been in the Kosher food industry for 26 years, and has been working with Pitt for the last four.
“[The Kosher section] gives an opportunity to students who want to reach out to their heritage,” he said.
Tombosky said that at its height, the Kosher section reaches around 150 students. This is a relatively small number for a school made up of about 20,000 undergraduates.
But by creating a Kosher section for a small community, students who find it more difficult to connect with people who share their religious values still feel included in the school. It is always a feeling of comfort and similarity — a valuable tradition — when there is a religious connection in a world of secularity.
When I think about my daily trip to the Kosher section at lunch, I think of it more as an experience than I do just a meal. It does more than fill my appetite. Coming into the Kosher section, I am not only reminded of the traditions that marked my life growing up, I feel a sense of comfort. I’m greeted with warm smiles. It’s more than a station offered by the dining hall, it is a small glance at the culture that was such a large part of my life back home.
As a new student, it can often be challenging to find your place in a school. For me, a small section in Pitt’s cafeteria helped me get over the initial loss of connection with my heritage. For someone else, a place among the nationality rooms or a local church or mosque might be the key to keeping a sense of comfort and continuity. But whatever that small thing is, no one should be denied that kind of experience, no matter how insignificant it might appear at first.
The more time passes by, the more I am able to find connections with my new school. Even though there are distinct differences between the city I live in now, and the small town I grew up in, these differences make my new experience all the more significant.
While I used to spend nice days out in my backyard on my hammock, I now lay down in Schenley on a blanket. Even though I consider my best friends from home the most like me, I have found people here who I would never have interacted with before and have become just as close with them. I’ve been able to both grow personally and keep in touch with my upbringing — and that’s not a small thing.
Although the Friday night dinners may feel different and I do not celebrate the same customs, Pitt has at least offered me a place where I am still able to link my heritage with my everyday life. More importantly, I have been able to make a new tradition — eating at the Kosher section every day.
Write to Ana at email@example.com.