Levey fosters a diverse community in which children learn to draw on Jewish values as they care for themselves, one another, and the environment. One way our students internalize these values is by eating.
Lunchtime at Levey is an opportunity for children to understand that there can be more than one right way to approach an issue. It offers a simple but profound lesson in tolerance: you and I may eat different kinds of food, but we can still eat together, enjoying one another’s company. Students also learn the importance of mutual concern: they sometimes need to refrain from eating whatever they want out of respect for those around them.
Choices about what food to eat or avoid feature prominently within the Jewish tradition. Today, there are many different Jewish ideas about what kinds of meat—if any—one should consume. Levey families adhere to a variety of sometimes conflicting religious and ethical standards regarding meat.
At first glance, the simplest way to address these differences would be to ban meat from the school entirely. Such a rule, however, makes it hard to provide nutritious meals to some children with limited diets, especially those with allergies to protein-rich foods like dairy or peanut butter.
Children should never feel left out because of their religious, ethical, or medical food restrictions. For that reason, we insist that all shared food—for instance, at weekly Shabbat celebrations—be vegetarian and safe for kids with allergies. In individual lunches, we ask our families to avoid foods with airborne allergens and to respect traditional Jewish taboos against pork, shellfish, and mixing meat and dairy in the same meal. Beyond that, however, children may now bring a broader variety of foods that more closely resembles what they eat at home. We respect the various food choices our families make and encourage children to learn from one another about why they make these choices.
Levey students join together not only to eat but also to recite blessings before and after each meal. This simple ritual helps kids appreciate that one shouldn’t take food for granted. The blessing after meals stresses the importance of all living creatures and emphasizes our common need for sustenance. It reinforces the values we teach about concern for the environment and for people who struggle with food insecurity.
At Levey, food is about more than just health and nutrition: it’s an opportunity to put our values into practice. Levey students learn that the choices they make about food matter.
David Freidenreich, a rabbi and professor at Colby College who studies religious food practices, is president of Levey Day School. His daughter is in first grade at Levey.