Maybe Jewish and Muslim kids will break bread together — kosher and halal bread, that is — at city public schools come September.
In a first, the City Council inserted $1 million in the city’s nearly $25 billion budget for a one-year pilot program that will provide kosher and halal lunches in two public and two private schools beginning in the fall. Students with these dietary requirements were excluded last year when the city launched its “free school lunch for all” program.
City Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D-Brighton Beach), who for the last four years has pressed the city to provide kosher and halal lunches, credited City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea) for his help and said the pilot project “is a step in the right direction.”
“We’ll see how the program goes this year and then we’ll go back to the table for next year’s budget,” he said. “Now that it’s in the budget, it will make it easier to put it in next year’s.”
Deutch is in discussions now to choose the schools for the pilot project— one Jewish, one Muslim and two public schools with large numbers of Jewish and Muslim children who eat only kosher and halal food.
Deutch said the federal government now pays $1.50 for each lunch and that the city would have to pay about another $3 to cover the cost of each kosher and halal lunch.
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Richmond Hills) said he has been introducing state legislation each year that would require the city to provide kosher and halal meals for students who request them but that the city has consistently opposed the bill.
“Now that the City Council put in $1 million, we can worry about [the city] supplementing it next year or even do it [funding] at the state level,” he said.
Weprin pointed out that his district has a large Bucharian Jewish population and a large Bangladeshi population, both of whom go to public schools and observe their faith’s dietary laws.
“Kosher meals are provided to senior centers on request through the city’s Department of Aging. I don’t know why schools would be different,” Weprin said. “If only one student requests it, it would be worth the cost.”
Maury Litwack, executive director of Teach NYS, a project of the Orthodox Union, said this is “historic funding” that the OU has championed for the last three years.
“We believe that when fighting for the education of all children, all means all,” he said.
It is estimated that 35,000 to 40,000 children in Jewish and Muslim private schools have not been included in the city’s free lunch program because of their dietary restrictions.
Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) welcomed the city’s funding and noted that she has been fighting on the federal level to ensure that school lunch programs are “as inclusive to the different needs of our students as possible.”
Deutch said he hopes “other states will now look to New York City as a model” in providing school lunches.