I chronicled this remarkable shift for Tablet, beginning with the unlikely story of how kosher food came to Harvard's dining halls:
The great knish controversy erupted at Harvard in the spring of 1992. It began with a toaster oven. The unassuming appliance was introduced into the dining hall of Dunster House—one of Harvard’s 12 residential dormitories for upperclassmen—as a courtesy to kosher-keeping students. Until then, observant Jews had been restricted to consuming the few kosher staples on offer, like sliced bread and tuna fish. Now for the first time, with the aid of their new toaster, they could sample such delicacies as rabbinically certified frozen knishes and pizza bagels.
But this did not sit well with Noel Ignatiev, a tutor in History and Literature at Dunster. In a letter to the dining-hall manager, he protested the use of “public funds” to finance “sectarian” concerns, which he deemed an unacceptable breach in the “separation of church and state.” It was a curious complaint, given that Harvard is a private institution with its own Divinity School and that the money for the $40 toaster was essentially coming from religious students, who would otherwise be paying for a meal plan from which they could not actually eat. “I don’t know whether to be offended, annoyed, or simply to laugh,” then-Hillel President Shai Held told the Harvard Crimson. Students decided to split the difference, and Ignatiev was alternately condemned and mocked in the pages of the school paper, which reported the outcry under the immortal headline “Students Support Kosher Toaster.” That May, Ignatiev’s contract with Dunster House was not renewed.
But while the “anti-knish tutor” has long since departed Harvard, his unwitting legacy lives on—in the form of kosher microwaves, toaster ovens, and well-stocked fridges in every house dining hall. It’s a success story that has repeated itself across the United States, as kosher food makes inroads into many of the most unlikely of campuses: from east coast to west, public universities to private ones, historically Christian colleges to the avowedly secular.