Emergency strategy meeting convened with over three dozen Muslim and Jewish community advocates

Focused on increasing access to Free School Lunch and advancing the City Council’s pilot kosher and halal lunch program

(New York, NY) — This week, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer convened a diverse coalition of Jewish and Muslim leaders, community advocates and students to organize around expanding universal free school lunches to include kosher and halal food. The coalition met previously in May to review a pilot kosher and halal school lunch proposal prepared by the Comptroller’s office, and had their first major success when the City Council funded a pilot program in this year’s budget. The pilot program, spearheaded by Council Member Chaim Deutsch, will provide $1 million to fund kosher and halal lunches in four schools. To help facilitate a planned meeting with the Department of Education (DOE), the Comptroller’s Office solicited feedback from stakeholders to ensure community input is taken into account as officials begin to consider implementation of the pilot.

“Our progressive values can’t end at the lunch line. All communities should be able to participate in public life throughout the City and that includes our Muslim and Jewish students,” said Comptroller Stringer. “Children shouldn’t be forced to choose between their religion and going hungry. And parents shouldn’t need to choose between spending extra money on school lunches and paying the rent. This program will be a success if we do it right – which means elevating community voices, responding to feedback and organizing hand-in-hand with community leaders.”

The Comptroller’s office recently developed a Halal and Kosher School Lunch Pilot Proposal, which detailed how DOE public school cafeterias can offer halal and kosher meal options.

DOE has embarked on many initiatives in the past few years to provide equitable access to healthy food for all children, including universal free lunch and breakfast in the classroom, but due to religious dietary restrictions, some students have been left out. City officials and education advocates have reported that 1 in 4 children in New York City are considered food insecure. Estimates also show that 38% of school children are Muslim or Jewish, meaning thousands of students do not participate in DOE-provided school lunch because of their religious beliefs.

Comptroller Stringer continued, “Partnership is critical to getting this done. I want to thank Councilmember Deutsch, Councilmember Espinal and Council Speaker Johnson for dedicating $1 million to ensure all kids have access to free lunch.”

Advocates who are part of the coalition shared the following statements:

“For the last 30 years I have dreamed that one day my children and other children would live in a City that respected all religions in the public schools. We have made our strongest strides yet toward fulfilling our civic aspirational values that every child be afforded equal opportunity to learn. That means providing Halal and Kosher options at lunch once and for all. We have fought for decades in the state legislature for this right to be equal treatment I am so grateful to Scott Stringer for championing this critical issue in the times we live. This pilot program was spearheaded by Comptroller Scott Stringer and is a good start to where the City needs to go on this issue,” said Mazeda A. Uddin president of “South Asian Fund For Education, Scholarship and Training (SAFEST).

“It is important for our City to accommodate the special dietary needs of a diverse student population providing halal and kosher meals,” said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the New York Board of Rabbis. “This would be a vital step in demonstrating the importance of respect for our different faith traditions. We are most grateful that we live in a city where such an arrangement is given prioritized concern by our officials. We look forward to our respective communities working together to implement this special menu program.”

“The Bangladeshi American Advocacy Group (BAAG) is pleased to be a part of Comptroller Stringer’s coalition for halal and kosher foods in NYC schools. For many years, BAAG has been advocating for this reasonable religious accommodation in schools on both the state and city level here in New York,” said Ateea Kazi, Executive Director, Bangladeshi American Advocacy Group. “Seeing the Comptroller take the concerns of the community beyond a statement of solidarity and effectively taking action on them, gives us hope that this City is home to people of all walks of life.  A former public school student, this experience has shown me that my generation must remain civically engaged. We hope our collective efforts will drive more financial commitments from other electeds for the well-being of our future Muslim and Jewish leaders.”

“We can attest to the desperate need for kosher lunches to be available in the public and private schools in the borough. Many of QJCC’s client families are low income and cannot afford the cost of private schools even though they are traditionally religious and therefore send their children to public school. Due to their religious tenets, the children cannot eat the school lunches at the present. Our concern is for these children to have a nutritious meal at school that will benefits their learning and achievement in the school setting,” said Cynthia Zalisky, Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community Council, the lead agency of 147 faith-based groups in Queens.

“Praise God! Once again the city of New York is demonstrating its commitment to religious diversity as a way of life.  Just a few years ago, Mayor de Blasio led the city toward expansion of its calendar for public school closings, based upon sacred day observances for Muslims and others. Now, City Comptroller Scott Stringer continues that leadership towards inclusion, by proposing implementation of pilot halal and kosher lunch programs for Muslim and Jewish public school students. It is a bold 21st century urban initiative.  If our city’s record of such accomplishments holds true, these programs will continue to illustrate that all students can successfully seek a quality public education, without compromising the requirements of their faith.  We salute the leadership of Comptroller Stringer, and pray for the programs’ success,” said Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid, Chairman of the Association of African American Imams Imam, The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc.

“The Arab American Association of New York applauds the city for its commitment to bringing halal and kosher meals to NYC schools. Food is a vital form of expression for all cultures and religions, and our children deserve the opportunity to eat according to their heritage and beliefs. We are immensely grateful for the organizing and advocacy efforts that made this program a reality and look forward to supporting it,” said Rama Issa-Ibrahim, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of NY.

“UJA-Federation of New York thanks Comptroller Scott Stringer and the City Council for their support to increase access to culturally sensitive kosher and halal meals in New York City schools. The $1 million included in the FY 2019 budget for a kosher and halal school lunch pilot program will help ensure that Jewish and Muslim students that follow religious dietary laws will have access to the nutritious meals they need in school to succeed academically. We look forward to continuing our work with the Comptroller and the Council to ensure the successful rollout of this pilot so that all students can take advantage of the universal free school lunch program,” said Louisa Chafee, Senior Vice President, External Relations & Public Policy, UJA-Federation of New York.

“Having halal and kosher food options in our school system is a symbol of the inclusiveness New York stands for in all its government functions. More choice and more diversity are known to be better for business, and the same is true for government and democracy,” said Alexander Rapaport, Executive Director of Masbia Soup Kitchen Network.

“Offering our students kosher and halal food is right thing to do, its New York City’s culture and the United States’ principles of equality,” said Imam Dr. Tahir Kukaj, Vice President of Albanian Islamic Cultural Center.

“New York is a city of many cultures and many faiths. Our schools should acknowledge and celebrate that diversity. Serving Halal and Kosher meals in our schools will illustrate New York’s efforts on leading incentives to promote inclusiveness in our communities,” said Khadim Niang, Civic Organizer, African Communities Together.

“Met Council applauded the city in its 2017 decision to provide free school meals to all students regardless of income, and we are incredibly grateful to the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson and City Councilman Chaim Deutsch for their efforts to expand this program even further. We very much look forward to assisting Comptroller Stringer, the Speaker, and Councilman Deutsch in this pilot and working with the Kosher and Halal communities to support our most valuable resource, our children,” said Jessica Chait, Managing Director, Food Programs, Met Council on Jewish Poverty.

“This groundbreaking program will help the needs of the growing population of children belonging to the Muslim and Jewish faith, which is currently close to 40% of NYC’s public school student population. While growing up in NYC and attending public school myself, my food tray was fairly empty on certain days due to my (Muslim) dietary restrictions. ICNA CSJ believes that education is the passport to success, and having healthy nutritious food will allow students to tap into the potential of their brilliant mind,” said ICNA CSJ’s NY Director, Omar Ranginwala.

“It is always good for all New Yorkers when communities work together to provide children with school meals that meet their spiritual needs”, said Rabbi Bob Kaplan of the Center for Community Leadership at the JCRC-NY. “We thank Comptroller Stringer, Speaker Johnson and Councilman Deutsch for making this important pilot a reality.”

“Autism Society Habilitation Association calls for support and help from all groups and elected officials to make the city comptroller’s halal & kosher food in public schools pilot program a success. Because healthy kids will build a healthy, robust New York,” said Rubaiya Rahman, Founder of the Autism Society Habilitation Association.

“To have in our public schools what my family and community practice in our homes would’ve strengthened my own self-identity. Growing up in NYC, we were all familiar with Christian & Jewish holidays. I was exposed to different practices that were foreign to my own. This taught me to acknowledge and respect other practices and consider them normal,” said Aaron Ishmael, Board of Directors, Indo-Caribbean Alliance. “Introducing halal food in the public school system will have the same effect: it will expose children to the other communities around them. It will teach them about world culture, strengthen their own social awareness, and reduce blind arrogance at a young age. This will help build overall empathy and thoughtfulness towards others.”

“There are so many halal places in our neighborhoods in Richmond Hill & Jamaica! I’m seeing just how segregated our eateries area in the adult world; I can only imagine how many students are isolated based on their diets. This program will really help break down barriers while students break bread together,” said Suzanne Mahadeo, Executive Director, Indo-Caribbean Alliance.

The Interfaith Center of New York is proud to support NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer’s efforts to offer halal and kosher meals for students in the City’s public schools. Comptroller Stringer and his staff are working to empower a broad coalition of the City’s Muslim and Jewish communities, in order to develop a program that will make our schools more welcoming and inclusive for religiously diverse young New Yorkers. We applaud their work, and will continue to support Comptroller Stringer as he advocates for this program in all of New York’s public schools.”

“It is essential to have a halal and kosher meals food program to ensure all children will eat in public schools. Thousands of children do not eat lunch or breakfast at our public schools due to religious beliefs. This collective effort will allow all children to have a healthy body and a healthy mind. We are proud to support the Comptroller in this pilot program,” said Mohammad Razvi, CEO of Council of Peoples Organization.

“The demand of halal and kosher food in New York City’s public schools has become a movement lately due to our consistent persuasion of elected officials to do everything in their power so that Muslim and Jewish students do not go hungry during their learning time at school. The Alliance of South Asian American Labor (ASAAL) is very proud to have the people’s comptroller Scott Stringer on our side who made halal kosher food at NYC Schools his issue and is leading us to believe that, when we work hard, build coalitions and continue to fight we win,” said Syed Adnan Bukhari Secretary, ASAAL Queens Chapter.

“This initiative is the culmination of a decades-long desire of the New York Muslim community. We’re grateful to Comptroller Scott Stringer for his leadership and making it possible for us to be able to serve our children wholesome food compatible with our faith tradition,” said Aisha al-Adawiya, Founder of Women in Islam Inc.

“With this initiative the DOE is taking a step towards meeting student nutritional needs. Students who attend public school spend about seven hours in school, and to have such a limited menu of food options is unfair and results in students going hungry who cannot afford to bring food from home. This initiative seeks to eliminate these obstacles,” said Fakrul Islam Delwar, Member of Queens Community Board 8 and Founder and President of the Jamaica Bangladesh Friends Society. “By recognizing what the community needs, the DOE is putting the needs of students first.  Students should not have to feel like school compromises their religious beliefs. It’s time that student’s needs were met at the place they spend most of their time. I thank the office of the New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer on his dedicated leadership and working with the DOE to make this a reality.”

“The Comptroller is keeping his promise in putting forth efforts to ensure equal access to and participation in the school lunch program for all students in the public school system,” said Tahanie A. Aboushi, lawyer and community activist. “The halal and kosher school lunch pilot program is a great initiative that brings attention to the needs of over 35% of the public school student population which for years have been ignored. I am excited and proud of our Comptroller for taking on this task and making it happen for our kids.”

“Our children should not have to choose between their faith and nutritional needs. Halal and kosher foods should be an option for all schools that have a sizable Muslim and Jewish population in a nod to respecting the needs of everyone in this great city,” said Alexandra Owens, Jackson Heights activist.

“This historic funding of the halal and kosher pilot is one step in the right direction to ensure that no child goes hungry in our classrooms. I am so proud to be part of this diverse coalition pushing to make it happen. Community input is key every step of the way,” said Rokeya Akhter, Co-leader of Queens chapter, Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom.

“Too many students in New York have to choose between their faith and their education, and Comptroller Stringer’s pilot proposal proves that we can change this. Our coalition applauds the city for taking a critical first step in ensuring no student goes hungry by bringing halal and kosher meals to our schools. We look forward to continuing our work to make this program a reality in all five boroughs,” said Imam Souleimane Konaté, General Secretary of the Council of African Imams.

“It is indeed a great achievement for the Muslim and Jewish community. Introduction of halal and kosher foods in our NYC school system will make communities happy, once again, we are thankful to the Comptroller stringer and his dedicated team, for their great work,” said Mohammed N Mujumder, LLM, President of the Bangladeshi-American Community Council (BACC).

“When hundreds of thousands of Muslim and Jewish children attend our public schools, religious accommodations relating to dietary restrictions cannot be ignored,” said Afaf Nasher, Executive Director of CAIR-NY. “The implementation of a pilot program for halal and kosher food at schools is not merely about furthering diversity and inclusion, but rather seeks to provide a basic need for nutrition that no child should be without. CAIR-NY welcomes and appreciates the ongoing efforts of the many organizational partners, the Comptroller’s office, and those City Council members who support this important first step to having a full halal and kosher meal program at our schools.”

“As the founder of PAYS (Pakistani American Youth Society) and parent of two daughters who go to public school, it is vital that the Department of Education provide halal and kosher food as well. Two of the largest religions in the world and our kids can’t even eat the food that’s being provided right now.  Does that make any sense? I thank Comptroller Stringer for leading the fight on this issue that’s so important for the Jewish and Muslim community,” said Ahsan Chughtai, Founder, Pakistani American Youth Society.

“This historic funding of the halal and kosher pilot is one step in the right direction to ensure that no child goes hungry in our classrooms. I am so proud to be part of this diverse coalition pushing to make it happen. Community input is key every step of the way,” said Rokeya Akhter, Co-leader of Queens chapter, Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom.

“We, at the Arab-American Family Support Center, are honored to support the implementation of halal and kosher food at NYC public schools. Our city is incredibly diverse, and it is truly time to embrace that diversity and ensure we are supporting the needs of all our students,” said Nancy Albilal, President and CEO, Arab-American Family Support Center.

“The inclusion of halal and kosher school meals addresses basic access to the NYC SchoolFood’s Free School Lunch for All initiative. This pilot is an important first step toward our public schools removing all food access barriers and makes the Department of Education consistent with other NYC Food serving agencies,” said Liz Accles, Executive Director, Community Food Advocates.