Almost exactly a year after Temple University unveiled the brand-new Rosen Hillel Center, students and faculty gathered at the three-story facility last week to celebrate the grand opening of a New York-style kosher deli housed inside the building.
The kosher eatery, dubbed Cafe 613 as the result of a student naming contest, has been in the works since plans for the $7 million building began solidifying in 2002. The number in the cafe's moniker refers to the 613 mitzvot that observant Jews are supposed to follow.
Though the building opened last fall, negotiations with the university food-service provider and other preparations delayed the cafe, according to Hillel director Phil Nordlinger.
Students can use their regular meal plans to purchase meals at the cafe at no extra surcharge. The cafe is also open to the community and menus may eventually be posted online, said Nordlinger.
The operation is supervised by the same head mashgiach who oversees kosher dining at the University of Pennsylvania. Under his supervision, Hillel leaders said the food meets Orthodox standards, though the facility is still awaiting certification from the Community Kashrus of Greater Philadelphia.
A week before the grand opening on Oct. 27, a horde of hungry students lined up for a free taste-test.
"Dude, habañero mustard!" Twenty-year-old Scott Rosnov waved a roast-beef sandwich toward a friend. "That's what I want!"
Rosnov said he doesn't usually keep kosher, but "when the opportunity arises, I do, so this is going to be a big help."
"It's pretty cool to have a place that suits religious needs and serves delicious food," he added.
Nordlinger estimated that more than 150 students have already sampled the salads, sandwiches and hot dogs offered at the cafe.
"It's been fulfilling to see so many students in and out of the building trying it," he said.
Nordlinger lauded the cafe as an opportunity for Temple to sustain its Jewish population and perhaps attract new students who need kosher dining -- or those who simply like to have more facets of Jewish life on campus.
As Rabbi Howard Alpert, director of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, put it, kosher dining can become a "platform" for building community.
"The product is not kosher food," he said. "The product is Jewish community."