Students Express Appreciation and Concern Over Changes at Asbell Center

Lianna Brown ’22, News Editor

Dickinson’s change to the KOVE’s kosher preparations for the 2019-2020 academic year have left some students unable to eat food prepared there anymore. The college terminated its Mashgihim, or Jewish supervisors of an establishment’s Kosher status, which lowered the Kove’s kashrut, or level of kosherness. 

Nicole Nelkin ’22 explained that the KOVE lowering its level of kashrut is “an added stressor [and] it’s also very isolating.” Nelkin can no longer eat at the KOVE due to its lower kashrut status and “no other places in this area that have kosher food other than snack items, so I do not pay for the meal plan. I have an apartment, and I do all my grocery shopping,” she said and continued that her meal prepping isolates herself from other students. “It’s just lonely,” she said.

Nelkin explained that she does not agree with Dickinson College’s decision to change the KOVE and “cut back on kashrut supervision or the level of kashrut,” she said. In prior years, the KOVE had the highest level of kashrut status and used paper plates and bowls to maintain this. “Changes for the sake of money and not having to use paper plates don’t justify putting a student’s nutrition in jeopardy, as this change has done,” Nelkin said. 

At the end of the 2019 Spring semester, Ricki Gold and Louise Powers were terminated, as their job to oversee the KOVE as Mashgihim was no longer required since the new director of the Asbell Center, Rabbi Marley Weiner would now oversee the KOVE. Their termination has led to even fewer employees working in Jewish Life, “the women who supervised kashrut at the KOVE in years past, affectionately known as the “KOVE ladies” [to students], were as much — and maybe more — a part of Jewish Life as the folks in the Asbell Center,” Nelkin explained. Stephanie Levin ’22 said “I understand if there was a financial issue, but I was sad that they had to let Louise Powers and Ricki Gold go. Just having them there drew a lot of students to the KOVE, and we really bonded with them.” 

Prior to the 2019-2020 school year, Gold and Powers supervised the KOVE, and a rabbi from STAR-K, the Kosher certification Dickinson used in the past, would come and check on the KOVE every few weeks to assure that the kosher rules were being followed. Prior to the 2019-2020 school year, the director of the Asbell Center was a part-time job. Now that job is full time and involves directing the Asbell Center, serving as community spiritual leader, and supervising the KOVE’s level of kashrut. This new position belongs to Weiner. 

Weiner explained that “the main difference is that I do not supervise the cooks in the KOVE 100 percent of the time that they are cooking, and instead check in periodically to answer questions and to do anything that they need me to do. Most things about the KOVE have not changed: the menu is the same, it is the same team of cooks and it is still kosher.”

Nelkin explained that Weiner having to do all of those jobs is “a lot for one person. As long as those jobs remain the sole responsibility of one person, something’s got to give, and all those jobs can’t all be good all the time. There’s going to be a downside somewhere,” she explained, “that downside looks different to different people; for me it’s kashrut; for someone else it may be the loss of services they are comfortable attending.” Weiner explained that her role as the director of the Asbell Center includes “mentor[ing] and provid[ing] spiritual care and education for Jewish life on campus, from the Asbell Center’s clubs (including Hillel, JStreet U, and Challah for Hunger), to any Jewish student on campus, to anyone who wants to learn more about Judaism. I also work with a number of departments, including Judaic Studies and [Center for Spirituality and Social Justice] to provide interfaith and cross-cultural programming.”

However, Nelkin explained that Weiner has introduced some new things to Dickinson’s Jewish community. “The new library she has set up in the Asbell Center and the new songs and tunes she has brought to Shabbat and High Holiday services. I always love learning new songs, so I think that that specifically is a nice way to add to the joyous Shabbat atmosphere,” she said. 

But even with the lowering of kashrut status on campus, Nelkin is excited about having general Hillel meetings, “where anyone who is interested can show up and discuss Hillel and Jewish life on campus in general,” and Rosh Chodesh, the Jewish women’s club is functioning again.

Levin said, “I’m excited about having Rabbi Marley at the Asbell Center. She’s been a really helpful resource for me in planning Hillel and other Asbell programs.”

Maya Peck ’22 said, “I am the president of Challah for Hunger and I now have a mentor for the club which is super useful. We have gotten a bigger turn-out in my club and more knowledge about Asbell in general around campus.”

Weiner explained that this year in the Asbell center, “we are focusing our programming in bringing in a diverse group of speakers. We are also just trying to meet students where they are. I love having coffee with students, and am happy to spend an afternoon at the Quarry just learning more about students, their Jewish journeys, their questions, and their experiences at Dickinson.”