This summer, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law 3L Dave Johnston won $50,000 on the online game show, “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” He had a little help from the TruTV (formerly Court TV) anchor, Ashleigh Banfield. When we interviewed him back in July, we asked what his plans were for his 50Gs.
He said he wanted to use them for a “good cause”: fighting back against Cardozo’s kosher policy. Since Cardozo Law is part of Torah-embracing Yeshiva University, the stated policy is that no school money can be spent on unkosher food, according to Johnston. In his words:
That meant student groups could only purchase their food from certain ultra-Orthodox kosher restaurants that had agreements with the administration. In the interest of cost, most orgs would opt for kosher pizza, made without the meat enzyme found in regular cheese but with the rich flavor of oily cardboard. It’s also more expensive than most pies. Meanwhile, one block west of Cardozo is Famous Original Ray’s (the real one) and one block east is Patsy’s Pizzeria. Where I grew up in California, my pizza options were usually Domino’s and Papa John’s. Maybe that’s why this policy boggles my mind. Here you have the world’s finest pizza in pizza-crazy New York so close, and the majority of Cardozo students do not keep kosher, so it just seems criminal to force us to pay more for less.
“Criminal” seems like a bit of a stretch. But Johnston says the kosher policy caught him by surprise when he first arrived at Cardozo:
This kosher situation caught me off guard when I came to Cardozo as a secular Jew. The kosher policy is not mentioned in Cardozo brochures. Cardozo had been described as a secular law school (see [“Cardozo Law School is secular, but as a result of its heritage many of its students are Jewish.”]). I knew Cardozo was affiliated with Yeshiva University, but they seemed separate and distinct. For example, if you refresh the Yeshiva University homepage, you’ll see yarmulkes in most of the photos. I haven’t found a single one on the Cardozo website. To me, that was telling.
Judging potential law schools based on the photos on their websites is probably not the best way to go about the selection process. But at least it tells you more about the attractiveness of the student body than the U.S. News and World Report rankings.
After Johnston won his Millionaire jackpot, he met with Cardozo Special Events about holding an unkosher feast to celebrate his winnings and thank his fellow students for their support. “I wanted to do it by giving them the mouthwatering pizza that no one else would,” said Johnston.
Find out whether pig products found their way into Cardozo conference rooms, after the jump.
Johnston told Special Events that he wanted this to be a typical school event, with a room reserved and flyers posted, and that he would pay with his own funds. Johnston said Special Events then cited a new rule that individual students are not allowed to host official events on campus.
Johnston managed to find a workaround. He made friends with the “avid pork-enthusiasts” at the campus Korean club and sponsored a Korean American Law Student Association event. Special Events was not pleased with this new friendship, said Johnston:
Subsequently, Special Events met with the new dean, vice dean, dean of students and others to discuss my proposal. I was not invited to this meeting. They ultimately decided, apparently as a matter of first impression, that all Cardozo events must be kosher regardless of who pays for the food. They mentioned that they grant a special exception for certain ethnic events, but this is rare. These rules are not written, and we had no opportunity for notice and comment.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining here. The school allows individual students to bring unkosher food informally. My friends and I could buy a pepperoni pizza, bring it to school, and share it for lunch.
Last week, Johnston sponsored Cardozo’s first unkosher feast with fifteen Patsy’s Pizzeria pies, most of them featuring pepperoni or sausage. “It was delicious, well-received, and uncontroversial,” said Johnston. Here are the photos to prove it:
Apparently there wasn’t an anti-kosher stampede: “The pizza lasted longer than expected because few people knew what was going on,” said Johnston. “I had to go to the lounge and the cafeteria to make announcements that I was giving away unkosher pizza.”