Greek rules stymie Jewish women’s sorority hopes

Amanda Grimm

Becky Saltzman never thought she’d join a sorority before she came to the University.

The College of Liberal Arts freshman was right; she’s not joining one. Instead, she and several friends, including Stephanie Morem, a General College freshman, are starting their own.

“Our main reason for starting a predominantly Jewish sorority was because we wanted that common bond of tradition and culture,” Morem said.

Morem sent a mass e-mail to Saltzman and several other women from Hillel about forming their own sorority.

Now, 20 of them are the first members of Achayot, which means “sisters” in Hebrew.

The girls are looking to forge their own niche in the University greek system. But in some ways, it’s proving more difficult than they anticipated.

Morem, Achayot president, said there is a predominantly Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, on campus already. At one time, there were two primarily Jewish sororities at the University, one of which was Alpha Epsilon Phi.

Alpha Epsilon Phi closed its doors because of low membership, and the other house was shut down because of alcohol violations.

Morem said she was told the girls can’t restart Alpha Epsilon Phi, or any other sorority, unless those already established on campus are full.

Aaron Asmundson, Campus Involvement Center greek adviser, said the National Panhellenic Conference strictly regulates how many sororities can be on a campus.

“The worry is that a new sorority would take away from the success of the other sororities,” Asmundson said.

Jen Boe, president of the University’s Panhellenic Council, said this year’s graduating senior class has more girls in sororities on campus than any other class, and numbers have been decreasing in the last three years.

“It could be a marketing issue, and it could be that the ‘U’ is big and women just aren’t as interested in sororities as they used to be,” Boe said.

Even if the numbers were higher, Boe said, sororities in the Panhellenic Council can not be religious-specific or discriminate against anyone.

“A long time ago, maybe sororities did that, but not anymore,” Boe said.

Morem said Achayot wouldn’t turn down potential members if they weren’t Jewish, but they would tell potential members that Judaism is a big part of the group.

For now, Achayot is working to function as much like a sorority as it can, so when members are ready to make their next move, they will be organized.

Like most sororities, it has Monday night meetings every week, but they’re held at Hillel instead of a sorority house.

The group has elected officers, and committees divided into interest areas such as culture, philanthropy, sisterhood and religion.

Each committee is responsible for
organizing events relevant to the entire group. Last month, the philanthropy committee arranged volunteer work at a walk for multiple
sclerosis.

They also participate in some cultural events with Hillel and the members of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity.

Each member pays fees to support Achayot, but they are still working out bugs such as how much dues should be and how frequently they should be paid. The group recently purchased T-shirts bearing Achayot’s name. Members will wear the shirts at public and volunteer events to advertise their affiliation.

Saltzman said she is already enjoying the connection the girls have with each other, but she is frustrated with the struggles the group has faced to find its place.

“It’s frustrating that we don’t really know what to do,” Saltzman said. “But we have lots of support from our parents, Hillel and the community. That will lead us somewhere.”