Want Free Kosher Food? UCLA Has an App

Jewish students at the University of California Los Angeles recently launched an app to bring awareness to an important issue in their Jewish community – free, kosher food on campus.

“This was a totally new thing we had to build.” | [Public Domain], via Pixabay

When members of UCLA’s Ha’am Jewish Newsmagazine developed an app to increase engagement with their articles, fourth-year computer science student Joey Levin thought of an additional feature they could add to make their app more popular.

He created a calendar, known as JewSwipes, which listed all campus events on a particular day which featured free, kosher food.

“Ha’am was already in development of this app, so I was like, ‘Asher, why don’t we make some sort of calendar system that people can download or look at and see free food opportunities,” Levin said, referring to Asher Naghi, the magazine’s editor-in-chief.

Naghi, a junior business economics major, originally found the idea for JewSwipes funny. But eventually, it became a real plan.

“[Levin] is one of the most passionate people about Jewish food I know,” Naghi said. “He went to every single event on campus where there was free food, and at a certain point he came up with the idea.”

Levin said they created the name JewSwipes as a play on the meal plan program at UCLA, where meals are referred to as “swipes.”

“We thought, why don’t we name it after the Jewish version of that – JewSwipes,” Levin said.

On an average day, there could be anywhere from one to five events, and Levin says he once saw eight in one day. Weekly, he said he probably uploads between 10-20 nosh opportunities to the calendar. The events vary from religious groups like Hillel and Chabad to the pro-Israel group Bruins for Israel or programs run by the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC).

“It’s not surprising how excited people are about the idea because it’s such a fun and engaging way to find your free meal on campus,” Naghi said. “Every time we mention this feature of Ha’am to anyone, they immediately go and download the app.”

The feature is built into Ha’am’s application, which is downloadable from the App Store. The home page directs to the magazine’s recent articles, which range from interviews with prominent Jews such as Ben Shapiro to comments on interfaith dialogue and Torah commentary. The JewSwipes feature is accessible from the side navigation bar.

Once inside the feature, it’s clear there’s a lot going on at UCLA. Each event has its own section and users can click for more information. There’s even a link to submit a tip about an event that may be missing, but Levin said it hasn’t been used much yet. Both him and Naghi are looking forward to marketing it.

Senior computer science major Yaacov Tarko is already using the new feature. He said he checks it to find free lunch on campus instead of going home.

“I’ll have class in the morning and class in the evening and I’ll have a few hours where there’s a gap,” Tarko said. “Usually, I would just go home and make lunch but [now] I’ll check JewSwipes to see if there’s a Jewish event with food.”

Tarko said he likes using JewSwipes because it introduces him to Jewish campus groups and events he’s interested in but doesn’t know much about. He likes OU-JLIC’s JewQ programs, where students can ask questions about Judaism.

“I would also want to go to an event that I’m interested in going to,” Tarko said. “The JLIC group here has question and answer sessions about Judaism, and I’ve gone to those a few times. I knew they existed but I didn’t know when they were.”

Because students get most of their information through their phones, Naghi realized how critical it was for the magazine to be accessible via mobile, he said. Now, the work begins to promote the app to the student body.

“We’re creating some videos, we’re going to create a launch party, and then we just recruited a couple business people,” Naghi said. “The big job is of course getting people to download the app.”

Naghi said he credits Levin with a lot of the work. Levin updates the feature manually every time he hears about a new event.

“It actually takes a lot of work to upkeep because Joey literally inputs every single event every single week,” Naghi said. “This was a totally new thing we had to build.”

Hannah Bernstein is studying journalism and environmental science at Northeastern University. 


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