Where there’s Big Ten basketball, there are lots of college students, and where there are lots of college students, there’s lots of food.
Now for the first time, kosher turkey, pastrami and corned-beef sandwiches carved to order, vegan falafel in a pita and hot dogs are main courses on the lineup at University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center, its basketball arena.
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Testudo’s Kosher Korner—named for the University’s terrapin mascot—is the first kosher stand at any sports venue on the College Park campus, which has one of the largest Jewish student populations in the nation.
A work in progress for three years, the University of Maryland Chabad partnered with Maryland Dining Services to create the stand, which will be open at Big Ten conference games, except those that take place on Shabbat. Supervised by Rabbi EliBackman—co-director of Bais Menachem Chabad Jewish Student Center with his wife, Nechama—and staffed by 15 student and alumni volunteers, the stand serves food prepared by a chef from university dining.
“The kosher stand adds an element of attractiveness to Jewish students, ” says senior business major Joseph Schwartz. “Now I don’t have to worry about eating before games. To sit down and eat a kosher hot dog at a game is a really amazing thing.”
With a 30 percent Jewish population—one of the largest at an American university—Maryland was ripe for the introduction of kosher food at games, says Schwartz. On its opening day, Nov. 17, there were long lines at the kosher stand during the game against Georgetown University; items went quickly.
The opening of the stand at Maryland comes 40 years after theLubavitcher Rebbe—RabbiMenachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—called for a newmitzvah campaign in the summer of 1975 to encourage Jewish people to kosher their kitchens and to consume kosher food wherever they are.
During that time, kosher food has become available at many professional sporting events, especially in areas with large Jewish populations, such as Toronto, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Florida and Los Angeles.
Close to the Maryland campus, all of the professional sports venues in the Greater Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area have kosher food, including the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.
Compared to the professional arenas, only a handful of college campuses across the country have kosher food in their stadiums, but their number is growing. Two years ago, a similar strictly kosher-food stand opened at the State Farm Center basketball stadium at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which serves hot dogs, pastrami and corned-beef sandwiches, and meat and potato knishes. The campus Chabad there is directed by Rabbi Dovid and Goldie Tiechtel.
‘Jewish Awareness in All Places’
“For me, the games are always fun, but the kosher food really adds an extra component, ” says fifth-year senior linguistics major Jacob Sacks, who worked as the stand manager at the first game. “It makes it more of an experience to go the game. And I can’t wait to try to the falafel; it looks really good.”
For Backman, the stand is a natural extension of the programs that the University of Maryland Chabad already offers to enhance Jewish life on campus.
“Basketball is such a big part of Maryland culture, especially now that our team is doing well, so the stand has brought an even greater awareness of kosher food to the campus, ” says Backman, who worked a 12-hour shift on the first day of the stand’s operation to make sure everything was in order.
The school has eyes on the next big game on Thursday night against the Iowa Hawkeyes. And there will be plenty of fare for everyone.
“Now the Jewish students won’t have the challenge of what to eat at a game, ” he says. “It’s our goal as Chabad to facilitate Jewish awareness in all places—to integrate Judaism with our entertainment—and to be proudly Jewish anywhere you go, even at a basketball stadium.”