Wednesday, February 10, 2010

JT News: UW Panhellenic Recognizes Jewish Sorority

From left to right) Lauren Brown of Hillel, President Jaclyn Leiberman and member Nicki Balk of The Jewish Sorority and Chaya Estrin of Chabad worked to create the recently university-recognized sisterhood.

Three-and-a-half years of hard work and dedicated organization came down to one vote. And that vote, deciding whether the University of Washington’s Panhellenic Council would recognize the 18-member Jewish Sorority, passed.

“It makes a lot of sense,” said Lauren Brown, director of Undergraduate Engagement for Hillel. “There’s a community of Jewish women out there and we’ve seen that build over the last couple of years, and many of them are interested in being a part of the Greek System. It’s really easy for Jewish guys who come to campus, but this gives an independent place for Jewish girls. Now they can say, ‘I really want to join a Jewish house for the best of both worlds.’”

Students at UW have the option of joining special-interest fraternities or sororities as an alternative to traditional Greek organizations. The options for Jewish women have long been limited since the Jewish-founded, non-sectarian sorority Phi Sigma Sigma left campus in the ‘80s. Even Jewish men have had multiple options—namely the Alpha Epsilon Pi and Zeta Beta Tau fraternities.

But with the granting of recognition by the campus’s sorority community governing body, that quickly changed. Now, frankly titled “The Jewish Sorority,” this long-running project already has 18 fully committed women and hopes to be housed by recruitment time next fall.

“This is really important to the UW community because the Jewish girls on campus didn’t really have a place to go,” said Jaclyn Lieberman, Jewish Sorority co-president. “But now, with the Greek community having a place for Jewish women, it’ll help all of us become so much stronger.”

Before the sorority’s creation, the only other Jewish women’s organization at UW was Banot—originally created to be the Jewish sorority—which has since evolved into a less formal bonding group for Jewish women. Most members of The Jewish Sorority were or are also members of Banot, and while overlap exists between the two organizations they’ve come to fill different purposes.

Although the sorority’s members can’t yet hold leadership positions on the Panhellenic Council, they do have every social, philanthropic and community leadership opportunity that the nationally recognized fraternities and sororities do. The sorority just doesn’t have letters—yet. When a new national organization is invited to campus, it will hopefully take them under its umbrella and grant what is now The Jewish Sorority membership from its national headquarters.

And while Chabad and Hillel are organizations nationally notorious for butting heads, the two organizations saw this opportunity as one truly important to the Jewish community as a whole and had no difficulty setting aside their differences.

“When I think about it, it’s an amazing thing that Hillel and Chabad were able to come together and bring this huge asset to the Jewish community,” said Chaya Estrin of Chabad. “If the whole world would work like that it’d be amazing.“

Though it has taken time and hard work, both UW Greeks and the organization’s members and supporters see this endeavor to create a new division of Jewish campus life as an important addition to the UW community and an exciting new place for Jewish students to live and be supported.

“AEPi only started nine years ago, and ZBT just three years ago, and they’ve both so strongly helped solidify the Jewish community on campus,” Estrin said. “I think everyone sees that having a Jewish sorority on campus will enhance the Jewish fraternities and enhance the Jewish community. Now more students can be actively Jewish and actively involved at the same time.”