Editor’s Notebook: The Passions of Jewish Greek Life

Editor’s Notebook: The Passions of Jewish Greek Life

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Ten years ago this week, the headline on the Atlanta Jewish Times’ cover story was “Rushing to Judaism.”

Michael Jacobs - Atlanta Jewish Times
Michael Jacobs

The article addressed the Jewishness of sororities and fraternities on local campuses and focused on the plight of the University of Georgia’s chapter of Delta Phi Epsilon, a sorority that was considering re-embracing its Jewish roots in the face of dwindling membership.

Within a few years, DPhiE was gone from UGA, and the international sorority continues to celebrate its founding as a nonsectarian organization, albeit by five Jewish women.

The struggle to be Greek and Jewish is a more sensitive issue than I realized as a nonmember of a fraternity. My participation in Greek life at Tulane was limited to attending a few rush events with my freshman roommate (he pledged ZBT; I drank the free booze), enjoying frats’ open parties (that free booze thing again) and occasionally popping in for sororities’ weekly free lunches (Greek organizations made college much more affordable for me).

I was not prepared for the passionate reaction to a column written by UGA junior and Delta Delta Delta member Ariel Pinsky for our back-to-campus issue Aug. 7. “Don’t Fear Non-Jewish Greek Life” was a defense of Ariel’s personal decision not to join Sigma Delta Tau, the Jewish sorority at UGA.

As Ariel explained, she had worried that SDT was the easy choice and would limit her social circle to people she already knew. She wanted other Jewish students and their parents to know that a Jewish life was possible at UGA for those in non-Jewish Greek organizations.

That’s important information for new students because UGA conducts sorority rush for freshmen before the school year begins. Young women must make a decision with lifelong implications based on a few days of recruitment events before they get to see their potential sisters in action and before they learn where they fit into university life.

In a response Aug. 14, “The Chutzpah of Rushing Jewish,” UGA SDT alumna Monica Flamini explained that rushing SDT is not an easy choice because it immediately identifies you as Jewish, but the benefits make it worthwhile. Again, a valuable perspective and interesting information.

We’re here to be an open forum, and I thought the exchange of ideas was great, particularly because it echoed what should be a friendly if passionate debate on the university campus, the ultimate marketplace of ideas.

Unfortunately, some members of Jewish Greek life at UGA view Ariel’s column as an attack on Jewish Greek life, as slander, as an effort to undermine their recruitment efforts. There’s talk of formal complaints being filed with UGA’s Panhellenic Council against Ariel and the Tri Delts.

I hope the rumors prove false. I hope no one is so sensitive as to see one person’s defense of her own choice as slander against another organization. And I hope that any organization associated with an educational institution, where free expression should be encouraged and ideas should be challenged and answered but not silenced, would reject such complaints.

It’s a sad statement if one column in the AJT can shake an organization to its foundation. It’s an even sadder statement if the response is to punish a person for expressing her opinions.

By the way, SDT, Tri Delt and the other sororities soon will have more competition: DPhiE is making a comeback. After holding events this fall to help find founders, the revived chapter is scheduled to participate in UGA’s sorority recruitment in August 2016.

We’ll have to wait and see whether the new DPhiE develops as an unofficial Jewish option, pursues a path disconnected from its heavily Jewish history, or charts a course somewhere in between.

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