‘Aggie Rabbi’ Delivers Kosher Meals To USTS Kennedy
It’s not every day that Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff gets a request from a vessel at sea, but that’s what happened this week to the leader of Chabad at Texas A&M University, known affectionately by many students as the “Aggie Rabbi.”
Lazaroff said he was contacted by Marc Cruz, the chef aboard the maritime training vessel U.S. Training Ship (USTS) Kennedy while the ship was in the Atlantic Ocean, days from docking at the Port of Galveston. At Texas A&M at Galveston, the university’s maritime-focused campus, the Texas A&M Maritime Academy trains cadets on the vessel for careers as merchant mariners, Navy sailors and other marine-related fields.
Cruz, a district executive chef at Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services, Texas A&M’s dining provider, had noticed that the ship’s Chief Engineer Milton Korn was not eating the meals everyone else on board was eating. Korn, a professor in the Department of Marine Engineering Technology at the Galveston Campus, was eating tuna and sardines for his meals.
When Cruz inquired as to why he was eating this way, Korn responded that he is Jewish and keeps a kosher diet. Most of the dining options on board were off limits to someone who follows a kosher diet. Kosher meals can be requested at university dining facilities, but Lazaroff said Korn was “perfectly satisfied with his cans of tuna and sardines; he did not want to inconvenience anyone. He is an educator and his main focus is to educate future engineers.”
But Cruz would not accept such a situation. “You are not eating tuna and sardines on my watch,” he told Korn. “I’m going to contact the Aggie Rabbi.” Lazaroff and Cruz have worked together over the past seven years on projects to create and enhance kosher dining at Texas A&M.
“They saw this as a priority,” Lazaroff said. “As soon as they were made aware of the situation, they went above and beyond to accommodate even if it was only one individual.”
Feeding people is nothing new for Lazaroff either. “As a Jewish student center, we prepare lots of meals for our students weekly,” he said.
After the call came from the ship, Lazaroff jumped into action, preparing Matzah Ball soup and buying four large coolers to fill with kosher food. Then he headed to Houston to meet up with Cruz, and they stopped to buy the equipment and utensils needed to maintain kosher standards.
Not all Jewish people are kosher, but for those who are, certain guidelines are followed in the types of foods eaten and how they are prepared.
Upon delivery of the food and equipment on Monday, Lazaroff tweeted “mission accomplished” alongside a picture of himself posing in front of the ship with Cruz and Korn.
Lazaroff said although this particular endeavor was unusual for him, serving the needs of Jewish students, faculty, staff and former students are all in a day’s work at Chabad at Texas A&M, a branch of the largest Jewish organization in the world with over 3,500 centers in 100 countries.
“Chabad at Texas A&M is one of 260 Chabad Houses on university campuses,” Lazaroff said, noting that he and his wife, Manya, moved to College Station to establish the Aggie Chabad House in June 2007. “We have worked to transform the landscape of Jewish life at Texas A&M,” he said.
Chabad provides in-house dining every Friday night for a weekly Shabbat dinner, and its programming ranges from holiday and social events, synagogue services, Jewish educational courses and classes, international learning and travel opportunities including internships.
“And to just being there for anything a student may need,” Lazaroff added. “We have created a home for students to be able to stay during times of crisis, developed the ReJOYvenation mental health and wellness initiative, opened a Kosher grocery, and have taken hundreds of students to Israel over the years.”
He said having a Chabad at Texas A&M helps attract Jewish students and faculty to the university.
“Knowing that there is a place that provides for their religious needs is comforting,” Lazaroff said. “We are an essential resource and educational facility for all students, faculty, staff and their families at Texas A&M.”
The Chabad center engages with hundreds of students a year with over 2,500 student engagements this year alone. “On a typical Friday night Shabbat dinner, more than 70 students come together for a four-course dinner,” Lazaroff said. “Our Matzah ball soup deliveries are famous and very helpful when a student is alone in their dorm and under the weather.”
Today, Korn and his kosher meals, along with the cadets, staff and faculty on the USTS Kennedy are back at sea, having departed Galveston on Wednesday. Their 56-day training cruise includes port stops in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, back to Galveston, then they’ll head to Boston, Mass., anchoring in New York City before finally concluding the journey at the ship’s home, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, Mass.
Learn more about the training cruise on the Texas A&M Maritime Academy site.