Passover diet blues

BY SAM LANE | APRIL 06, 2010 7:30 AM

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I sat quietly, staring across a wooden table in Burge Marketplace. On the other side, a friend quickly consumed a greasy cheeseburger and a piece of freshly baked bread.

My tray consisted of a dull salad and a glass of lukewarm skim milk.

With each piece of lettuce I consumed, I envied — er — despised my friend.

For the last eight days, I’ve observed the Jewish holiday of Passover. Unlike other Jewish holidays, today I eagerly await its conclusion.

That’s because with this holiday, Jews around the world give up chametz, a Hebrew word that traditionally described leavened foods but has come to represent food that’s unacceptable for Passover. According to texts, when the Jews broke from the shackles of slavery in Egypt, they didn’t have time to allow their bread to rise. Since then, Judaism has adopted a set of dietary rules for the holiday.

The key foods that are classified as chametz are leavened bread and wheat products.

So while I’ve still been able to enjoy some of my favorite foods and beverages, my diet has included a healthy dose of a flat, tasteless, yeast-less bread called matzah.

At home, I was at least able to enjoy my mother’s food that was acceptable for Passover.

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However, this year — my first away from home — it’s been tough to avoid the temptation of eating the wrong things, especially when the closest place that serves Passover foods, the Shulman Hillel House, 122 E. Market St., is several blocks away from my West Side dorm. But I have succeeded.

I became most frustrated when I discovered that neither of the UI cafeterias offered alternatives for Jewish students. And the Kung Pao Beef simply doesn’t fill the void.

Greg Black, the director of UI Food Services, said it tries to meet students’ needs and does, in fact, compensate students who eat at Hillel during the holiday. And though it seems like a nice option, I haven’t been able to make the trek to Hillel for one of the meals.

“We do try to stay away from recognition of specific religious commemorations,” Black said. “We do serve a wide variety of students. We try to introduce ethnic foods to expose students to other cultures.”

While I appreciate the residence hall’s tacos and Chinese food, I’m still not able to eat regularly in the cafeterias.

Hillel director Gerald Sorokin said Hillel has served Passover lunches and dinners for as long as anyone can remember, aiding the roughly 800 graduate and undergraduate Jewish students who attend the UI and decide to stop in. Those people contribute to Iowa City’s Jewish population of between 1,500 and 2,000, Sorokin said.

“If [UI dining] were to make an entrée every day that avoided the kinds of food that are prohibited during Passover, I think a lot of students would choose to take advantage of that,” Sorokin said.

“The success of Hillel in providing our meal service has taken pressure off the university.”

And most students enjoy the meals.

“It’s delicious,” said Lisa Greenfield as she ate lunch at one of Hillel’s long tables. “People really appreciate that Hillel does this.”

She that during her freshman year, she was frustrated by the residence halls’ lack of options because she was unable to eat with her friends.

So though we appreciate our ancestors’ struggle, I think most of us will be thankful this evening when we pile our plates with spaghetti and garlic bread.

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