Kosher kugel for the kids alongside the ham and cheese?
That’s the goal of Hamilton Heights Councilman Mark Levine, who was slated to propose a non-binding resolution Thursday calling on the Department of Education to include kosher and halal food in its free Summer Meals Program.
“The Summer Meals program of the DOE is probably one of the best programs in New York with the least public awareness,” Levine told The Jewish Week. “It’s an amazing service providing free breakfast and lunch to any child in NYC regardless of immigration status. This wonderful resource in effect, is excluding probably well over a 100,000 young people. We also see this as an area where there’s a natural alliance between myself and [Muslim] Council Member I. Daneek Miller,” who represents the St. Albans area in Queens.
There are currently no kosher or halal food options in the NYC public schools during the year, although a DOE spokesman points out that the schools do offer vegetarian options.
“In the case of the kosher option, it is less problematic because the majority of Jewish kids are now in day schools. In the case of the halal option, it very much is a problem because the majority of kids observing Muslim dietary laws are in the public school system. But during the summer everyone can benefit,” Levine said.
While food with kosher or halal certification costs more, Levine said, “significant federal funding is allocated for this program.”
“It isn’t necessarily coming out of the city’s coffers,” he said.
Because of jurisdiction issues, Levine can only make the proposal as a non-binding resolution, not a bill.
“It does not have the force of law the way legislation would,” he said. “But in the real world it carries a lot of weight. It serves to rally advocates, and build awareness to the media. It undoubtedly has an impact when members of the council show support. … If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be spending time on this.”
“It’s ridiculous that so many children are shut out of Summer Meals because they don’t offer Kosher or Halal options. I applaud Councilman Levine for his initiative and encourage the city to make this change immediately so that every child who needs a meal can get one regardless of their religious beliefs.”
Asked whether the DOE would consider offering kosher and halal meals, a DOE spokesman sent a statement to The Jewish Week saying schools provide vegetarian options all year and that a food truck offers kosher vegetarian meals during the last week of summer, when camps have let out but schools have not yet begun. That program, which started in 2012 is a collaboration between the DOE and several Jewish organizations including the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, the Jewish Education Project, Council Members David Greenfield and Stephen Levin, the Jewish Community Council of Boro Park and the UJO of Williamsburg. This summer it provided 4,000 free kosher lunches to school-age children from low-income families during the week of August 24th.