By Ariel Pinsky
“So you’re an SDT?” is the question that usually follows when I mention that I’m a member of a Greek organization at UGA. My response is always the same: “No, I am actually a Tri Delt.”
I wait for the shock and mild contempt to fade from the person’s face before I proceed into my standard explanation for why I chose a non-Jewish sorority and how I maintain Jewish traditions and relationships as a college student.
I’m not sure why I feel obligated to give this response. Is it my imagination that members of the Jewish community automatically oppose my decision, or do I have some explaining to do?
Three Jewish sorority members are in my Tri Delt pledge class (Class of ’17). Two of us went to synagogue together on the High Holidays last year. Our sorority is next to Hillel and down the street from Chabad. Every semester we have several social events with the fraternities on campus, including one Jewish fraternity. This is the extent of my Jewish life at UGA, but it doesn’t have to be.
There are several ways for people like me, a Jew in a non-Jewish Greek organization, to increase their involvement in the community. I have options, including Dawgs for Israel, a multi-ideological group that celebrates Israeli culture; Hillel at UGA, a Jewish body that offers Hebrew lessons, Shabbat dinners and charity events; the UGA chapter of Students Supporting Israel, a pro-Israel international campus movement; and the Jewish Law Student Association.
It’s disappointing to hear from several of my Jewish friends that their parents were unwilling to even discuss these alternatives before college. Instead, they narrowed their children’s options from the 61 sororities and fraternities at UGA to just three: Sigma Delta Tau, Alpha Epsilon Pi and Tau Epsilon Phi.
Whatever happened to Jewish people being open-minded?
The summer before I left for UGA, my mother said she wanted me to meet new people in college and try not to limit myself. She didn’t elaborate, so I never understood what she meant until that August, when I found myself sitting at the SDT house in the third round of rush and I could already name nearly every person in the room.
In that moment I decided to take my mother’s advice because I could not justify pledging myself to an organization that would limit my opportunities and interactions to my Jewish bubble.
After I accepted a bid into Tri Delta at the start of my freshman year, the fears of what might happen from joining a non-Jewish Greek organization came to fruition. I dated a non-Jewish guy. I attended only one Shabbat service at Chabad. I spent Yom Kippur studying for a chemistry test. I rarely returned for the holidays, and I ate the nonkosher dining hall food.
The thrill of a whole new world proved irresistible as I was hurled into all these exciting, unchartered territories.
I expected my mother and father to react negatively to this nightmare scenario for most Jewish parents. But their response was the opposite: Instead of pulling me from the sorority, as I feared they might, they embraced my initiative to experience things outside the lifestyle in which I had been raised.
My dad said it took chutzpah (both kinds — boldness and rudeness) to do so, but he admired me for it nonetheless. He explained to me that if he did his job correctly in giving me a Jewish education, one day I would return to the community. And here I am.
This past year, more accustomed to college freedoms, I better integrated both worlds. I now come home for every major Jewish holiday. I attend synagogue as often in Athens as I did before. I worked this summer for the Atlanta Jewish Times, where I’ve learned much about the Jewish community.
So what is your fear? Is it that your child won’t fit in with a primarily Christian group? That he or she will be unable to keep up with Jewish traditions? That your son or daughter will not make the kind of lasting connections that occur only within the Jewish community?
While I can’t promise that your child will be a model Jew on campus if he or she chooses to join a Greek organization outside the Jewish Trio, I can assure you that making lifelong friends while staying involved in the Jewish community is possible.
You’ve done your job; now let your sons and daughters step out of their comfort bubbles and experience the world so that they can grow.