By Monica Flamini
Note: This response is on behalf of the dozens of people who have reached out to me with their ideas, edits and words. The thoughts below belong to previous members of Sigma Delta Tau, Eta Chapter, and it is with their permission that I write these words. I would like to give a special thanks to Megan Maziar, Dana Odrezin, Cara Lewin, Stacey Light, Stephanie Fishman, Abby Weinberger, Lenni Nagler, Jamie Lincenberg and Danielle Hyman for their support throughout this process.
Ariel Pinsky mentions the notion of chutzpah in her article “Don’t Fear Non-Jewish Greek Life.” As a former president of SDT at UGA, I would like to respond to the chutzpah I saw in the article — the chutzpah, or boldness, inherent in discussing an experience she chose not to have.
To box up the Jewish Greek life experience as one in which everyone already knows each other and is forced into it by an overbearing parent is wrong. To understand why people join SDT at UGA, you have to be a part of the organization. You must see SDT from a foundational level. You must know that being a member means you have the highest GPA on campus, you organize the biggest philanthropy in Greek Life, and you are a representative for a culture that makes up just 3 percent of the university. To understand why people join SDT at UGA, you must consider every nuance that has gone into creating the most successful and renowned chapter in the sorority’s history.
Back in 2009, I was standing where countless college freshmen are going to be in a week: inside the Chapter Room of SDT, about to make the easiest decision of my life. Surrounded by both unfamiliar faces and girls I have known my entire life, I saw a place I knew only by name quickly transform into my home. I saw a place where I could be my most genuine self, and I knew the young women making this journey with me were fully aware of the responsibility that comes with being a member of the only Jewish sorority at UGA.
The second you walk into SDT, you are overcome with the feeling of soul, the feeling of ruach (spirit). The atmosphere in the house is so comforting and warm because it is familiar. It is everything you have grown up with; it is loud, it is kind, it is funny, and it is filled with food from Bubbe.
I have seen hundreds of girls shy away from pledging the sorority because they are afraid to join “the familiar.” They want something new, and they want an experience totally different from what they have grown up with for 18 years.
What so many of these girls do not realize is that college is a long road, composed of limitless first experiences and the overwhelming notion that adulthood is looming. At a time when familiarity is perhaps the greatest comfort of all, so many girls shake away their cultural upbringing to join a different sorority, one they have known for only a week.
When the glitz and glam of crystal chandeliers and marble parlors dissipate, these girls realize that they are cut off from a culture intrinsic to their identity. They begin to reach out to girls who did join SDT, and they build up the Jewish circle they do not have in their own sorority. These girls then start to accompany the new members of SDT to tailgates at AEPi and TEP, oftentimes alone, as none of their new sorority sisters knows anyone in the Jewish fraternities. Soon enough, they are at the SDT house, studying for exams with the new members and wondering what life would have been like if they had joined.
I saw this happen over and over again during my four years as a member of SDT. Jewish girls who join Tri Delta, Chi Omega, Kappa, AOPi and Theta do not know where to go on Wednesday afternoons during Bible study. They do not know what to say when their chapter says a prayer exalting Jesus Christ before meals. They do not know what to do during initiation when they are asked to promise allegiance to Christian values.
So while I understand the paramount importance of having agency over your Greek life, I also know the necessity of choosing a sorority that will sustain and comfort you for years to come.
I also understand the chutzpah that comes with emblazoning yourself with the letters sigma, delta and tau in one of the nation’s oldest Southern state schools. As soon as you don those letters, you are exposing to thousands of students that you are Jewish. You are inviting judgment and ignorance to have a front-row seat in your life. It is a vivid display of vulnerability and courage, and not everyone has the strength to possess that kind of chutzpah. It takes a special young woman to become a member of Sigma Delta Tau, and we join with the knowledge that the people wearing our letters are fighting the same battle. It is a David-and-Goliath tale set in a small college town in the middle of a state whose anti-Semitism is painfully obvious at times.
SDT is so much more than the Jewish traditions and Jewish connections that the recent article mentions. SDT is not about having people to go to synagogue with on Yom Kippur or to Chabad on Shabbat. It is about a community fastened together with cultural ties so resilient, they transcend divides too deep for many to contemplate. The women of SDT are not my friends; they are my sisters to the full extent of the word. They come from all over the country and bring with them a shared bond to a faith that has come to define how we view the world.
The women in my sisterhood challenge and inspire me to grow in a system that seemingly has compartmentalized who I should be as a Jewish Southern woman. Because I joined SDT, I became part of something so much larger than three Greek letters and a little house on Bloomfield Avenue. I became the best version of myself, all the while surrounded by values my family worked tirelessly to engrain within me and by people who taught me the meaning of living a full life.
What parent would not be proud of that? What parent would not want that for a child?