I am Jewish.
I am in a fraternity. (No, mom, we donít drink alcohol, I promise.)
But the Greek letters I wear are not AEPi, ZBT or Sammy.
Some might call it blasphemy, but yes, Iím a Jew in a non-Jewish frat at Northwestern University Ė Beta Theta Pi to be exact.
And the question I always hear the most is, "Why?" Especially for anyone who knows that my dad was in ZBT at the University of Pittsburgh. It seemed like a logical legacy. Heck, the national president of ZBT at the time I was rushing had just signed my brotherís ketubah.
In the end, however, I felt as if I was letting my Judaism define me too much. I did not want to choose a fraternity based on a religion that I only really loosely followed. I donít define myself solely by my religion. Itís not the first thing I tell people when I meet them.
"Hi, Iím Steve, Iím Jewish."
No, Iím much more than that, so I wanted more than that from a fraternity.
I didnít like how AEPi just relied on the fact that they were a Jewish frat to recruit new members. What else do you have to offer? Great, we can pray together, but I can do that with you at Hillel anyway if I want. What about parties, intramural sports, the condition of your house, the quality of the girls hanging around (hey, I canít lie, it was a factor), etc, etc.
When it came down to ZBT, which is a largely successful house at NU, I just didnít feel right with the guys. Part of me felt like everyone was too much like me. I wanted to branch out and meet people as different from me as possible. Yes, my best friend in the house is a Jew from Atlanta, but my Beta roommate last year was from El Salvador.
I guess I just never really thought of my Greek association in "Jewish" terms before. Jewish, black, white, Hispanic, etc. To me it never mattered. I found the group of guys I liked hanging around most, and I joined.
At NU, Beta is truly one of the more diverse fraternities on campus, but nationally it is still a very anti-Semitic clan. When I went to visit Michigan for a football game last year, I was quickly warned by some of my friends in Ann Arbor not to drop by the Beta house, because their nickname is "Beta Hate A Jew."
Sure this bothered me quite a bit, but every fraternity and sorority has a different reputation on every campus. I chose Beta because of its reputation on my campus. For the record, Iíve visited Betas at nearly a dozen different campuses, and Iíve never run into an anti-Semitic problem.
Now that I am in my senior year, I can honestly tell myself and perspective new members that I am extremely pleased with my decision to join a non-Jewish fraternity.
The one thing I canít profess, however, is that it was always easy to be in the minority of my fraternity. Playful joking around the dinner table about peopleís race, skin color or religion never bothered me. I actually think it made some of us closer. If you can joke with someone without them getting mad, then youíve built a pretty good relationship.
I did, however, encounter several serious anti-Semitic problems.
My fraternity brothers took jokes too far or made hateful remarks in a completely serious manner. One time it even led to a physical confrontation.
In my mind, though, I wasnít shocked that people still harbored negative feelings toward Jews, but I was more astounded that a 20-something from an upper-middle class background at a school like NU could be so hateful.
Although the situations really angered and saddened me, I did learn and grow from them Ė certainly experiences I never would have had in a Jewish fraternity.
But there are ten times more positive than negative aspects of being a Jew in a non-Jewish fraternity. I love it when my brothers ask me about holidays or want to try matzah. Some have even come to services with me. Itís a learning process, and we are all helping each other become better citizens of the world by doing this.
And I think more and more freshmen are catching on. When I joined Beta, there were maybe three Jews in the house. Now I think we have about a dozen.
Iím not going to lie, it takes some guts to put yourself in an even more magnified minority situation by joining a non-Jewish fraternity, but in the end it will be well worth it.
Plus, why not try something new? Wouldnít life be boring if you only hung around Jews?
Okay, maybe not boring, but youíd probably have more headaches from the constant kvetching.
Steve Silver is a senior at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. He is the former president of NU Hillel's Jewish Greek Council.