Former Dancer Finds Higher Calling Serving Kosher Food On Campus

Elise Foley

By Elise FoleyThe Daily Northwestern

Students lined up for kosher food at Allison dining hall might have no idea an international ballet master is serving them.

Yehonaton Levy, the new kosher supervisor at Allison, worked as a professional ballet dancer for 20 years before converting to Orthodox Judaism.

At Allison, Northwestern’s only dining hall that prepares kosher meals, he is responsible for making sure Jewish culinary laws are followed – a job he said he views as a spiritual calling.

“One day I’m hoping to be a rabbi, and this is a stepping stone,” Levy said.

Levy was born in Chicago to an American mother and a Hungarian father. His father was a Holocaust survivor, but the family was not particularly religious, Levy said. He returned to Judaism later in life, he said.

“After a mid-career injury I began searching for the meaning of what I was doing,” Levy said. “I virtually got involved in everything, but I would come back to the Torah. Ironically, because I started studying Torah again, I was healed of my injury and given back my career.”

Levy said he could dance even better than before. But he began to question his priorities.

“I began the slow process of becoming more aware of what Judaism meant rather than just believing things,” Levy said. “I had to make a decision whether to keep dancing or retire.”

Levy chose to teach dance and study the Torah. He took an interest in kosher preparation during his religious education.

“I was making my own food in my room, and suddenly I was making food for the other guys,” Levy said. “Then I got a part time job in New York at a kosher cafe. Things just fell into place.”

NU’s kosher program started in 2001, when kosher food kiosks were placed in several dining halls. Now it’s an eight-meal-a-week program.

“It’s about providing service and enhancing diversity,” said Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, who oversees the program. “It’s something that’s extremely important.”

Levy said providing kosher food is even more than that.

“It’s the spiritual welfare of people, whether they recognize it or not,” Levy said. “People may not realize it, but (by eating kosher) they’re getting a blessing.”

Kosher food is purchased and prepared under specific guidelines. Rules state that there can be no cross-contamination between kosher and non-kosher foods. Milk cannot be served with meat, for example, and even the same stovetop burners cannot be used for kosher and non-kosher meals.

This creates some difficulties in preparing dining hall meals, Levy said.

“From cooking terms it’s difficult to work in a small area,” said Levy, who works with another chef. “In terms of kosher, you have to be really creative with limited options.”

The kosher station serves a range of students, from the general population to people who eat only kosher meals.

Abigail Goldman, a Communication freshman, doesn’t keep strict kosher but enjoys the kosher meals.

“I’m Jewish, but for me the kosher food is more of a tradition,” Goldman said. “Even though I’m not specifically kosher, I know that a lot of people are. This should be available to them.”

Levy said serving Jewish people is what he likes best about his job.

“It’s a mitzvah (commandment) to make sure Jewish people have kosher food because we’re commanded to have kosher food,” Levy said. “On a spiritual level, it’s like bringing bread and water to someone in the desert.”

Reach Elise Foley at [email protected]