For the members of the Jewish community, the Center for Jewish Life is much more than a place to eat. Rather, it represents a solid community of people who share similar beliefs and religious experiences.
The CJL website explains that the building was opened in 1993 and was established to provide for the “social, educational, religious, and spiritual needs of the Jewish community on campus.” In addition to the residential college eating options on campus, the CJL acts as the only kosher dining hall, meaning that it prepares food according to Jewish law. Kosher requirements not only refer to the food that is eaten, but also how it is prepared.
Moshe Beiser ’19 explained that eating kosher has always been part of his lifestyle; it was how he was raised, and a conscious decision he made as he grew up. Beiser added, “It became a large part of my college application process. When I was visiting for schools one thing I always looked for was the availability of kosher food.”
According to Joshua Weissmann ’19, “Food is an integral part of my lifestyle and interaction with the outside world, so I can definitely identify with the fact that many Jewish religious experiences center around food.” While eating kosher is partially a religious activity for Weissmann that is practiced according to pre-existing law, he noted that eating kosher also allows him to maintain relationships with a consistent group of community members.
Weissmann explained that walking into the CJL and dining with many of his closest friends gives him “a strong feeling of religious upliftment.” In this sense, to him, food not only nourishes one’s body, but also one’s soul because of the community that comes along with the food.
The CJL does a good job at “doing what Jewish mothers do,” Weissmann noted, by creating a congregation that reminds many Jewish students of home. He described how being at the CJL gives him an overall sense of warmth because “when you walk into the dining hall, someone is looking at you and smiling and [you know that] they want to talk to you.”
Beiser noted that it’s easiest to center his life around being in the CJL because it is where he eats three meals a day and prays multiple times. He said that, even as someone who is abiding by the strictest level of kosher law, he could technically eat cereal or some sort of salad at the other dining halls, but since he is already in the CJL most of the time for religious and social purposes, it makes practical sense for him to eat there.
As Weissmann described, if kosher food were served at all of the other dining halls, “there would be a rupturing of the CJL community.” There is something intangible and valuable in the CJL community, he explained, and also noted that it’s the sense of being in harmony with the other CJL members that truly makes eating together meaningful.
Moreover, in contrast to other universities in the country, Beiser commented that the CJL was unique because it is open to the broader Princeton campus. As a result, Beiser said he’s grateful that he can still share meals with friends from his hall and other parts of campus who don’t need to eat kosher food, but who are still able to eat with him.
Outside of Princeton bubble, Weissmann noted how keeping kosher while eating with other people is a much greater inconvenience, unless you live in New York City. He further detailed how it could be “tremendously difficult taking clients out to lunch because kosher restaurants are not exactly prolific.”
For this reason, the CJL exists and, as Weissmann commented, is currently doing a “phenomenal job [at] bringing people together,” allowing them to show their true selves, and “building a community over mealtime.”
The CJL serves all meals: breakfast from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The building is conveniently located on Washington Street across from Frist Campus Center. Any Princeton student on a University meal plan can swipe into the dining hall.