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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Rabbi Zirkind promotes Sherman as a ‘home away from home’

Published: October 12, 2012
Section: Features

A common sight in and around Sherman Dining Hall, Rabbi Chayim Zirkind truly believes that Sherman is a place where students can feel at home. Zirkind’s occupation seems fitting for him. While he did not always know that he wanted to become a rabbi, he was always conscious of his interest in the religious field.

“I always did like the concept of working with food in addition to eating it,” he said. “I liked to work with it, so it was a great combination. I work with the food and keep an eye out that the food is kosher and that everything that is used is kosher.”

A full time employee at Sherman, Zirkind maintains the kosher-only section, providing those with religious and dietary needs full access to the nourishment they need.

From Brooklyn, New York, Zirkind described his journey to his current occupation. Even while at school to become a rabbi, Zirkind was never far away from involvement with food. “I used to spend my evenings koshering homes, and that’s when I found that it was something I wanted to continue doing on a larger scale, to keep homes or establishments kosher.”

In describing what makes food kosher, Zirkind comments on the common misconception that people believe that a rabbi constantly blesses kosher food.

“The only time you make a blessing regarding food is when one has an obligation to thank God for the food, that is the only blessing associated with being kosher. That doesn’t make the food kosher, it is just a thank you to God for giving you the food,” Zirkind said.

He does believe that this prayer before eating is important, explaining, “The idea of a blessing is, in order to benefit from anything in the world we are taught that we have to thank God for it.” While Zirkind may not be blessing the food in Sherman, he still has an important duty.

“Here I make sure that all the products used are kosher and that they have proper kosher symbols on them,” Zirkind said. He also explained that Sherman doesn’t utilize every single food with a kosher mark on it, Zirkind chooses the reputable ones that are recognized nationally.

In order for meat to be considered kosher, it must have been killed in accordance with Jewish law. Zirkind described this as an “instant kill,” created to put the animal in the least amount of pain possible.

“You are supposed to treat animals with kindness, like before you eat your meal make sure your animals are fed, animals are recognized as something to respect and they also have the right to roam the world.”

People who are certified to slaughter animals in this correct manner go through special training and hold respected positions in their communities. While Zirkind’s own father held this occupation, Zirkind explained, “I couldn’t kill a cockroach, by nature, I could eat a steak, but I am the kind of person who makes a short stop if a squirrel even thinks about crossing the street.” In order to maintain involvement in the production of kosher food, it seemed natural that Zirkind would oversee kosher materials after they had already been processed.

A long time Brandeis employee, Zirkind believes that the university setting has enriched his life. “I love getting to know and respect other people for their views on religion, life, politics and simple day-to-day things. I think people who work at a university learn so much from their educational surroundings.” He also believes that Brandeis is extremely open to embracing different religions, citing Sherman’s tendency to invite people of all religions to Friday Shabbat dinners. “Even if you are not Jewish, you are more than welcome to come and enjoy a Shabbat meal, even if you just wanted to have the experience.”

Zirkind also emphasized the importance of Sherman’s existence as a dining hall on campus. He comments on the excellence of the staff, and how they behave more like a family. “We share responsibility and the goal is to make the experience for everyone that comes in here so that they feel at home,” he explained. He also commented on Sherman’s all-you-can-eat policy, and how it encourages relaxation and bonding between students.

“I think people feel more comfortable here, and they find this is where they would rather sit to do homework. In other places you find yourself getting hungry again. A student could come in and really feel at home, come in, relax, kick back, grab a cup of coffee, stay as long as you want, nobody is going to kick you out,” he said.

He explained how eating kosher is always an option, even for those who are not Jewish. He boasts not only the quality of the food in the kosher section, but the skills and knowledge of the staff. “We do a great job pulling off a quality meal and the staff really know the kosher laws, they know it as if it was their religion.” Enjoying coffee while sitting at the booths in Sherman, Zirkind embodies the homey and laid-back atmosphere of Sherman.

Zirkind himself enjoys the presence of students, and strives to make them feel at home at all times. “I look at the students as my kids, therefore I want them to have the best. Even if it is a non-kosher kid, I want to make sure him or her has a meal. I will do the most I can do to accommodate them.”

As time passes and Zirkind remains at Brandeis, he said it only deepens his bond toward the students who frequent Sherman. “The longer I’m here I feel more like a parent to the kids, and nobody should ever feel homesick. There are people here who really do care about them, and would give the shirt off their back to make sure they are warm and comfortable,” he said.