When I first started college, the last thing I thought I would do is join a sorority. (I know that sounds clichéd, but it’s a cliché for a reason.) My assumptions about these organizations were riddled with stereotypes from movies and pop culture; I had no idea a sorority could be such a source of empowerment. Why I eventually decided to join my sorority, a small-ish chapter of a national Jewish organization, stemmed from a desire for camaraderie with other Jewish women.
In high school, I was a part of an international Jewish youth organization called BBYO (B’nai Brith Youth Organization), where you couldn’t blink without being reminded of the existence of Judaism. During my time in BBYO, I was constantly surrounded by the hearts and voices of an incredible group of women. Needless to say, this organization absolutely changed my life and helped me foster irreplaceable relationships with other Jewish women my age. My motivation to join my Jewish sorority was to extend this experience beyond the bonds of those from BBYO, and to embark on this new chapter of life with the support of a sisterhood.
Unfortunately, in this larger setting, the camaraderie I so desired quickly became a source of isolation.
Unlike BBYO, you do not have to be Jewish to join my sorority, something I wholeheartedly agree with and am proud of—diversity equals strength. That being said, the Jewish foundation of my sorority has long lost its priority status. Being one of the only Jewish sisters in my chapter has created a sense of urgency and defensiveness within me. Unfortunately, instead of feeling the desired soulful and cultural connection to the few sisters who are Jewish, I feel as though we are bonded by our minority role and responsibility to represent the “Jewish voice”—as if that is a single, homogenous entity.
It is a disheartening fact that the Jewish representation in my Jewish sorority is extremely lacking. Due to said lack of representation, it’s as if I have to carefully calculate my relationships with the handful of fellow Jewish women to ensure our collective voices are heard as clearly as possible. For instance, when we are nominating sisters for the election of Heritage Chair (who keeps the chapter involved with Jewish events and holidays and plans Jewish programming) onto our board, it quickly became a list of all the Jewish sisters, the pressure of speaking for an entire culture being strapped onto our shoulders. But if the small group of us within this giant organization doesn’t stick together, speak up for Jews and our culture, and represent the Jewish voice… who will?
Even if there was only one Jewish sister in the chapter, why is the foundation of our sisterhood being brushed under the rug? Why is Judaism, when out of sight, out of mind?
What I mean is Judaism should be made a presence. We could be having chapter Shabbat dinners, or highlighting a Hebrew word of the week on our chapter’s social media. We could talk about the culture; relate aspects of sisterhood to similar principles in Judaism; discuss the fight for equal rights in modern day Judaism; invite Jewish women professionals to speak on panels and at recruitment events. Something as simple as introducing new sisters to Judaism and the culture the organization was born from would enhance this presence.
As a Jewish sister who has not once felt my Judaism celebrated, or even acknowledged by my sisters in a significant way, I’m not worried about meeting a quota for Jewish sisters. I just worry about how we can ensure that this culture has a place in our sisterhood and within our conversations as sisters.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my sisters and my sisterhood. I cherish the memories I have made so far during my time as a sister, and I do not resent my status as a cliché. I crave nothing more than a deep, lasting connection with the women in this organization. But I long for the day that my Jewish identity is more than me answering questions to ease the embarrassment of someone else’s ignorance. I long for the day when my Jewish sorority feels truly Jewish.