A Mensch's Guide to Campus Activism


Community, philanthropy, leadership in Jewish and Greek life

 Lauren Mangurten 
By Lauren Mangurten

One thing Jewish and Greek organizations have in common is the sense of community they provide to Jewish students. Both give students the opportunity to participate in philanthropies, build leadership skills and make new friends. Students across college campuses find it easy and meaningful to be involved in both communities.

Yael Dvorin, a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I), is active in both the Jewish and Greek communities on campus. She is co-chair of a new Hillel Student Leadership program that aims to ease the transition to college for Jewish freshman and transfer students. Dvorin’s past involvement in Jewish life includes fundraising for community services, and serving as the Jewish Education Chair at Hillel, she said

“I’ve done a lot to entertain my curiosities in Judaism,” she said.

Dvorin said she is also president of Panhellenic Council, a student government for sororities on campus. In addition, she served as New Member Educator of Alpha Epsilon Phi at U of I - a national sorority founded by Jewish women - where she enjoyed working with the new sorority members. Her desire to play a bigger role in her sorority led her to become president in 2006. She wanted to work with other sororities in Panhellenic Council as well, so she became president of Panhellenic Council.

In balancing her time between Jewish life and Greek life, Dvorin said she tries to separate the two so when she goes back and forth between the Jewish and Greek organizations, she feels fully invested in each.

Yet her numerous experiences in Jewish and Greek life complement each other in a meaningful way.

“You take every experience to your new one,” Dvorin said.

For Rayna Schaff, a junior at U of I, Jewish life is fundamentally distinct from Greek life. Schaff chose to join Kappa Alpha Theta sorority – not a Jewish sorority.

“I really pushed myself to get out of my bubble,” Schaff said. “I really met so many people who are so different [than] me.”

Schaff said she likes the diverse environment of her house.

“Everyone was really accepting and also just really fascinated,” Schaff said.

She held the position of Music Chair for Kappa Alpha Theta. She said she was also actively involved in recruitment in her sophomore year, as well as in her sorority’s philanthropy events.

The decision to join Kappa Alpha Theta was one of the hardest decisions she ever had to make because she gave up having a Jewish community within her sorority, Schaff said.

“I felt if [Jewish life] is something I want to be a part of, I’m going to have to seek it out,” Schaff said.

Her involvement in Hillel started slowly, she said. Schaff grew up in a family that is culturally Jewish but not religious.

Hillel gave her the opportunity to attend services for Shabbat, which led her to become more involved in religious and other aspects of Jewish life. Schaff got to know people at Hillel, became an intern there and spent a lot of time there when was not at class.

“They became like my family,” Schaff said.

She is the Co-Tzedek Chair at Hillel for the 2007 to 2008 school year.

Alexis Hymen, a sophomore at Northwestern University, is also not in a Jewish sorority. She said there are no Jewish sororities at Northwestern.

She was timid at first, not knowing if she would be the only Jew in Kappa Delta, her sorority house, Hymen said. However, after meeting the other women in her house, she saw that this was not the case.

“I’m definitely not singled out,” Hymen said. “And that’s really important.”

She has become close friends with Jewish women in her house, she said.

Hymen said it was initially difficult for her to balance Jewish life and sorority life. Hymen is on the Shabbat committee at Hillel and puts together a bagel brunch with two other students once a month. She also holds positions in her sorority. She is assistant web master, recycling chair and in charge of one night of recruitment.

“Right away you feel like you want to do and have to do everything,” Hymen said. “And then after a while you get the hang of it.”

Balancing her time between Jewish life and Greek life helped her learn that both communities are important to her, Hymen said.

“Generally speaking, it’s really easy to become overwhelmed at college, no matter where you go,” Schaff said. “The best thing you can do is to be open to new experiences.”

Posted: 10/18/2007 05:30:05 AM

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