Jewish and Muslim student groups at UC San Diego had an idea they could work on together — creating a campus dining spot with both kosher and halal dishes.
It was a small but meaningful collaboration amid tensions that have arisen from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a global campaign that has sought to put economic and political pressure on Israel, in part, to protect Palestinian rights.
"I don't think anyone on our project team thinks this will solve those disagreements," said Zev M. Hurwitz of the Union of Jewish Students at UCSD. But "we also think it's possible to be progressive and productive on things like campus dining hall offerings."
The students' effort is one of several in the UC system to create kosher-halal dining spots — most of which are still in the planning stages. But Jewish and Muslim students said the opportunity to work together has helped build understanding.
"Dialogue and coordination definitely brings both communities closer," said Jim Atkins, the executive director of Santa Cruz Hillel, which has been meeting with the UC campus' Muslim Student Assn.
Sammy Mehtar of the Muslim Student Assn. at UC Berkeley said that discussing the project "has already brought Jewish and Muslim students together."
Kosher and halal — orthodox methods of preparing food for Jews and Muslims, respectively — are similar. Both generally forbid pork and require the ritual slaughtering of animals to ensure thorough bleeding. Neither group typically eats birds of prey.
Observant Jewish and Muslim students have a difficult time living on some campus because the available meal plans don't always have kosher or halal options.
UCSD students want to have a facility in one of the dining halls that currently are being renovated.
Hibah Khan, a member of the campus Muslim Students Assn., said the project hopes to create a kitchen with two separate spaces, one designated for kosher and the other for halal.
If it happens, Khan said, "Muslim and Jewish students will definitely be seeing each other more and hopefully this will lead to new friendships, if not familiar faces."
Getting a kosher-halal dining area has proved difficulton other campuses.
At UCLA, Cem Yesilyurt, a member of the Muslim Student Assn., said Jewish and Muslim students found there were too many differences between the food preparation methods.
"Kosher and halal are not one and the same," he said.
Halal, for example, generally allows rabbit, wild hens, shellfish, duck and goose, but those are not necessarily permitted by kosher dietary law. Although there is kosher wine and beer, such alcoholic productsare prohibited in Islam. And unlike halal, kosher practices require meat be kept apart from dairy products, and separate dishes and utensils must often be used.
"The needs of the Muslim students and those of the Jewish students were very different," Yesilyurt said. "Although both student groups shared the need for dietary accommodations, the practical aspects of the preparation and storage of halal meat are different than those of kosher food."
UCLA officials asked the groups to find a joint vendor that could provide halal and kosher meat. But after three months of searching, they weren't able to find one.
Eventually the Muslim and Jewish student groups sought out separatevendors, Yesilyurt said. There are currently kosher choices available on campus, but no halal meat options.
Still, Yesilyurt said both groups got something out of the experience.
"We have made some close friends," he said.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times