A former intern’s crusade to bring kosher food back to the Senate bore fruit Monday with the beginning of a trial run at the Dirksen Senate Office Building’s cafeteria.
Prepackaged sandwiches and salads “Made with Love” from Kosher caterer Bubbie’s Gourmet were stacked alongside standard fare. Options included a “Tuscan salad” of chickpeas, bow tie pasta and green beans, along with a balsamic chicken sandwich on flatbread.
If all goes well, selections from Bubbie’s Gourmet could become fixtures of dining services offered all across the Senate side of the Capitol.
David Poltorak, an Orthodox Jew and recent Georgetown law school graduate who was then interning for freshman Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), began his quest for kosher last autumn.
On his first day, he recalled going downstairs to one of the several cafeterias and carry-outs scattered throughout Senate office buildings.
“Where’s the kosher food?” he asked.
The answer: There was none. Nowhere on the Capitol campus could observant Jews find a premade meal.
Poltorak was told by Restaurant Associates, the private company that runs the Senate food services, that there was no kosher food because there was no demand.
“I couldn’t believe there was no demand,” Poltorak said. “My first day here, I had, like, 10 kosher friends here working in Congress as staffers, and they said they wanted kosher food but had just never bothered to ask … they brought food from home or subsided on potato chips or peanuts.”
Poltorak got by on peanuts, Diet Cokes and Mike and Ike candy during the course of his internship. “It’s not my style,” he said, to bring his lunch from home to avoid a kosher junk food diet.
Sean Burstyn, a George Washington University international affairs student who also maintains a kosher diet, shared Poltorak’s experience.
Bouncing around the Capitol during his interning track, lending his services to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I- Conn.) and Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Burstyn has learned the hard way that keeping kosher while working in Congress “tends to be an every-man-for-himself matter.”
When he forgets to bring food from home, the day’s diet becomes relegated to fresh fruit plucked from the cafeteria produce bins or emergency sustenance fished from scattered vending machines.
So Poltorak went to work lobbying the powers that be to provide kosher meals — and found allies on Lee’s staff.
“The Senator is a Mormon, and I think most of the staff is Mormon as well. That actually proved to be … a great thing because there was a lot of understanding about religious things, especially dietary restrictions,” Poltorak said. Observant Mormons generally avoid caffeine, among other vices (such as tobacco) not readily available in Senate dining areas.
Senior staff members helped move Poltorak’s cause up the administrative pipeline, where kosher food had to get a green light from the Senate Rules and Administration Committee before Restaurant Associates could pursue a contract with a caterer.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.