Shake-Up at Asbell and the KOVE Means New Director and Cut to Dining Staff

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Shake-Up at Asbell and the KOVE Means New Director and Cut to Dining Staff

By Jules Struck ’19, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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Almost a decade ago, Ricki Gold and Louise Powers came to Dickinson to help oversee the newly minted kosher and vegan dining area, the KOVE, as Mashgihim. Nine years later and their friendly faces will no longer be staples of the cafeteria as Dickinson cuts its contract with the Kosher certification company currently used, largely due to financial reasons. 

“The best part was the rapport we had with the students,” said Gold. “That’s the hardest part about leaving, is that we were doing a lot of things that weren’t a part of our material job description, just to help out.” The women often opened their homes to students, and did so every year for Passover.

Gold and Powers were schoolteachers in Harrisburg before coming to Dickinson, and educating Dickinson students about Judaism was “really wonderful,” said Gold. 

“It was a big change for us from teaching, but not really,” said Powers.

Dickinson currently uses STAR-K Kosher Certification to approve the food at the KOVE. This certification is considered high enough for Orthodox students to eat the food, due in part to the oversight of Gold and Powers, the two employed Mashgihim, or Jewish supervisors of an establishment’s kosher status. A rabbi from STAR-K also visits the KOVE every few weeks to check that kosher rules are being followed. 

The KOVE’s degree of kashrut, or “kosherness,” will go down without STAR-K’s nationally recognized standards, explained part-time Associate Professor of Religion Ted Merwin, who is also a former director of Dickinson’s Asbell Center for Jewish Life. 

Gold’s and Powers’ salaries aside, the yearly fee of STAR-K is $12,000, said Errol Huffman, director of Dining Services. The expense for the disposable dishes required by STAR-K standards is around $30,000 a year, said Professor of Religion and Sophia Asbell Chair in Judaic Studies Andrea Lieber, and that the plates conflict with Dickinson’s sustainability practices.

The current director of Asbell is part-time. The college is now looking for a new full-time director who is also a rabbi, making that person able to oversee the kosher certification of the KOVE instead of STAR-K. Lieber, who is on the search committee, said the search has narrowed to three candidates: two rabbis and a third candidate with “extensive” experience in kosher food certification. The position officially begins August 1. 

Around eight percent of Dickinson students identify as Jewish, said Gregory Moyer ’06, director of Admissions Recruitment. For the small community of Orthodox students within that, eating at the KOVE will no longer be an option. 

Nicole Nelkin ’22 eats strictly kosher, and said she won’t be able to eat Dickinson food “aside from the oranges in the caf and like, a box of cheerios from the D-Den… No cooked food, really.” Nelkin said she came to campus expecting to cook for herself and that she has access to a kitchen.

Before coming to Dickinson, Nelkin said the school’s kosher options “really signaled to me that it was important to have that level of inclusivity of people of religious observance. And now I feel that the inclusivity level, I guess, is going down because the higher the bar the more people fit under it. But it’s still there.”

Lieber said the college is looking for ways to accommodate Orthodox students, but what those measures entail depends somewhat on the new director. “Of course we don’t want [those students] to feel excluded,” said Lieber, “we want to find another way that is more creative” to serve their needs. She said the committee may consider working with a rabbi from Harrisburg to help accommodate Orthodox students. 

The original thinking for the KOVE nine years ago was in part to “brand that part of the college’s dining option and attract more students who identified as Jewish,” said Moyer. Before the KOVE, the percentage of Jewish students on campus “was probably pretty close, maybe slightly lower,” said Moyer. 

“As an investment in recruitment… it hasn’t been as effective as we would have liked,” said Lieber. 

Still, Moyer said the KOVE serves as a symbol of Dickinson’s commitment to Jewish life. “What we have seen is an increase vibrancy in Jewish life on campus,” he said, though “anecdotally… families, I would say, infrequently inquire about the college’s specific kosher certification with admissions.” 

Mia Merrill ’19, who is on the search committee for the new director, said they are looking for “someone who can work in… a pluralistic [community, with] people from all different backgrounds and levels of observance, and someone who can work in an interfaith setting too.” 

The three candidates for director will visit campus to speak with students and to be interviewed by staff and faculty, said Donna Hughes, director of the Center for Service, Spirituality and Social Justice. 

Nelkin said she hopes the new director “is someone who can really connect with students and facilitate [Asbell’s space]… It would kind of bring up the level of Jewish life… Having someone who has a home here as opposed to someone who is here as work.” 

Julien Herpers ’19 said having a full-time rabbi “matters because it’s a great way to engage with the local Carlisle community and the Jewish people in the vicinity. I think that’s really important actually… Having a full-time rabbi is sort of an anchor of the community.” 

“It’s nice that they’re trying to bring in someone full-time to lead the Asbell Center,” said Max Ross ’21, but he wonders “if their job helping supervise the KOVE will take away from their job being the Asbell Center director.”

“We’re asking a lot of whoever this person is,” said Merrill. “It’s definitely going to be a little difficult. But I think we also are going to be honest with them… It might take some practice but I think we’ll figure it out,” she said. 

The KOVE “didn’t necessarily achieve the initial objective, but it’s had all kinds of benefits,” said Merwin. “The KOVE from the beginning has really appealed beyond the Jewish population.”

Merwin said he had conducted surveys with his students to figure out why the KOVE is so popular among the whole campus, and that the reason “is a little bit of a mystery.” 

“My impression is that the appeal of the KOVE… comes from the fact that it is made in small batches… served by two ladies from Harrisburg [Gold and Powers] who have gotten to know the students and are really friendly and welcoming.” 

“We just really enjoyed our years at Dickinson, Ricki and I,” said Powers, “the people we’ve worked with were wonderful… It’s been wonderful.” 

 “We loved meeting the kids and sharing the food,” she said, “I am sad to leave the kids.” 

Powers said she will be moving to Israel with her husband, and Gold said her immediate plans are to spend time with her grandchildren. “I love to bake,” Gold said, and that she has not planned to but she’s been encouraged to start a home-baking service. 

“I’m going to really miss [Gold and Powers]. They’re really, really nice,” said Moyer. “They do a lot to help Jewish students on campus… So they’ll be missed,” he said.

 “I know people really appreciate the KOVE ladies, and not a lot of people I’ve talked to know that they’re leaving,” said Melkin. “I hope the people show their appreciation for them, basically, before they leave.” 

“We just want to thank the students for their love, and part of what we did that we were very proud of was educating the students about the Jewish holidays. That made us feel very good,” said Gold, “educating them was really wonderful.”