The Conspiracy

Being Jewish in a Sorority

I am a sister of Chi Omega’s Phi Lambda chapter at Franklin & Marshall College. I was inspired to write this entry because my chapter recently held Chanukah and Christmas celebrations. We have a “point system” to ensure sisters attend enough events throughout the semester (if not, then the sister’s ability to go to formal is potentially jeopardized). I was a little confused when I found out that the Christmas celebration (gingerbread making) was worth two points, whereas the Latke making for Chanukah was worth only one. Though I really didn’t want to make a big deal about it, I sought to find out why this was, considering it seemed like we would be doing similar activities for the respective holidays at both celebrations. Turns out it was just a scheduling issue and that the gingerbread activity was scheduled first, making it more likely girls had already fit it into their schedules. The personnel chair also told me she felt gingerbread making was more of a “holiday” celebration anyway, which I did not completely agree with but was not going to make a stink about it.

This then reminded me that Chi Omega’s motto is “Hellenic culture and Christian ideals.” Not like we seriously do anything religious, but when I was pledging my freshman year I felt slightly uncomfortable having to memorize this, and knowing that by joining this organization it was bound to define me in a way. As I am Jewish, it really does not define me at all, but instead is just a miniscule “characteristic” of my organization.

While I attend a small liberal arts college with only three sororities, I recognize it is a different setting than at a larger university; however, I think that all chapters maintain their own identity. Though Greek organizations are founded on principles, missions and goals, it really is not feasible for the same type of people to choose one organization across the country to join. However, there are several Greek organizations that are known for their “Jewishness.” I do not know how it happens that at my college most Jewish males join Phi Kappa Tau (not religious-affiliated), but they do. Further, this is not just how it is now, but when my Dad attended F&M forty years ago, he was a brother of Phi Tau and said it was the same way. This leads me to wonder if Phi Kappa Tau has this reputation at other campuses, even though it is not “Jewish” in their founding text.

This is different than the Greek organizations that are founded with Jewish traditions in mind. For example, Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) is a popular Jewish fraternity, and Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi is a popular Jewish sorority. While there are prominent Greek organizations that are founded with Jewish initiatives, such as strengthening connections to the Jewish community during college years, they do not compare in number to the amount of other ethnic-driven Greek organizations, such as Latino, Asian-American, South Asian, and Armenian.

I joined my sorority mainly to meet new people, to participate in philanthropy, and to have organized social functions to attend. However, I struggle to understand the concept of alienation that Greek organizations manage to do. After doing a bit of research, I have realized that it is not only my sorority, but loads of Greek organizations that promote Christian values. Consequently, this was a motivating factor for Jewish Greek organizations to form. At first I thought it was strange for Jews to want to separate themselves against everyone else, considering we know what happened when they were targeted as a group in the Holocaust. However, then I recognized that it seems Jewish Greek organizations formed in an effort of empowerment. Now it is clear that they wanted to bond together a group of like-minded individuals for social purposes, just like any other group really. Though my sorority may not be the “Jewish” Greek organization at F&M, I’m glad that I don’t feel any real abrasive effects of its motto having “Christian ideals,” but instead love spending time with my sisters, even though I am Jewish.

2 Older Responses to “Being Jewish in a Sorority”

  1. Gavin
    December 17, 2009 at 12:24 pm #

    You’re right, each chapter has it’s own identity. I’m a Phi Tau from NC and I don’t believe we had anyone of the Jewish faith in our chapter when I was an active. But then again, religion never really ran our chapter either.

  2. Jacob Siegel
    December 18, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    Thanks for a great article – this reminds me that discrimination and invisibility still exist for Jews and people of other religions, even at college campuses.

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