It might sound unimaginable to reach 12th grade without ever eating school lunches. But students who keep kosher at Niles North and Niles West High Schools in Skokie are now discovering lunch lines, buying food, and something as simple as carrying a lunch tray like their non-kosher friends. It's all thanks to a new kosher food program in District 219.
Jewish students and their parents first started campaigning for kosher food offerings at the schools after the district added halal options to the menu for Muslim students. In early May, the kosher food program began, catered by Zelda's, a kosher catering company.
"Kosher food in school tells these children: 'You belong in school, you're worth it,'" said Rabbi Yochanan Posner, of Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie. "It's something very special."
Posner first became involved with the Niles North and Niles West schools in 2019, when the district administration offered a course to teachers-"Teaching Palestine"-that was accused of including anti-Israel and antisemitic content. Although the district quickly withdrew the course, Posner stayed involved, determined to advocate for Jewish students in a school system where they represent only 2% of the population.
Nowadays, Posner serves as the co-sponsor of the Jewish Association of Students at Niles North and educates non-Jewish students about Jewish history and holidays. In the short time since the kosher food program began, students have told him that they feel "safe, respected, seen, and welcome."
"We are very pleased that our Jewish students now have access to kosher meals at school," said April M. Stallworth, Executive Director of Communications & Partnerships at Niles Township High Schools District 219. "It's a small part we can play in ensuring they feel seen and heard in our district."
In the first week of the program, 2/3 of the letters sent to the district came from Jewish students and families expressing gratitude for the new kosher food. "I cannot begin to describe how happy my child is to be able to eat a hot lunch with his friends," one parent wrote. "Thank you for making our school truly an inclusive and welcoming learning environment."