αlpha βet

This weekend, I rushed.

But I started slowly. Anyone who has been to the University of Maryland on a Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, #terptuesday night, or really any night at all, knows that the Greek life, is, well, life. Often, to be a terp is to be Greek. And the only way to understand a true Greek, nay, a true terp, was to scope it out myself, by posing as an incognito applicant. I then convinced some fellow Hillel friends of the same. At first we merely observed, as group leaders parted the sea of jeans (the required dress code) into tight groups, allowing them to traipse neatly across Frat Row to social exodus. Humming “וּבְנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל הָֽלְכ֥וּ בַיַּבָּשָׁ֖ה בְּת֥וֹךְ הַיָּֽם,” I joined carefully (while my friends chickened out), my Modern Orthodox long-but-not-too-long Shabbat dress swimming suspiciously among them. Transitioning into “one of these things is not like the other” I followed into the house, avoiding eye contact while carefully crafted smiles engaged in carefully crafted chatter with the already-in-a sorority girls (who, yes, had been carefully crafted as well). There I was: a criminal imposter amidst the Greeks, in Shabbat clothes, ready to be burnt. Essentially, I had become the Sorority Mordechai.

It wasn’t until we were instructed to assemble according to name tag that I rushed. And then, boy, did I rush: out the door, down the block, terror filling my rapid breaths, and yelling to my waiting friends “THEY KNOW! WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!”

Apparently, “no name tag” did not fit into the “a-m” nor the “n-z” line. I guess I’m not quite cut out for sorority life, but after that rather fantastic “Az Yashir/Sesame Street” soundtrack, maybe I’ll give acapella a shot.

But it wasn’t until after I rushed out that the real mabul occured. Broken off from the sea was a wave of smiles, complemented by matching sweatshirts, and, you guessed it, jeans, which approached my friends and me just moments after I had caught my breath. The horror of being imprisoned by the sorority police flashed through my mind as they asked us if we had seen “a freak running into chapters and disturbing the peace.” Apparently, they had received an urgent alert, which described said freak to be sporting “heelys.” Heelys, aka the coolest shoes of the early 2000s, for those of you unaware, are the fantastic blend between the sneaker and the rollerskate (pictured). Damn, had I been wearing those bad boys, I would’ve skated out of the sorority house with much more swag.

My eyes shifted to the new Shabbat boots on my feet instead, which bore just the slightest heel (pictured) but were starkly different from Heelys patent leather booties.

My friends similarly double checked their respective Shabbat footwear, which, surprise, were definitely not the retro-hip sneaker/roller skate combo either. A member of the wave looked down too and said, “well you guys clearly aren’t wearing Heelys, so I guess it’s not you…” She also mentioned that the incident had happened about ten minutes earlier, pointing to the house I had just fled about ten minutes earlier. It was then, not during countless classes at yeshiva day school, nor a year of seminary that I finally internalized why we had to codify the gemara: certain things truly are lost in translation. Had she had the help of Rashi or even a Tosafot during this mix-up, she would know that between “Heel” and “Heely” is a y, or a Hebrew yud, which not only equates to the number ten, which is the same number of minutes she chanced upon me after the crime, but is also the first letter of my of full Hebrew name, Yakira. Once you involve gematria, it’s pretty obvious that I, Yakira, the wearer of “Heel” and not “Heely” was guilty ten minutes ago of attempting to infiltrate the clandestine sorority rush. But I guess UMD’s gematria department is a bit lacking. Crisis averted.

It’s amazing how the biggest part of being a part of a big university is being a part of something small. Often lost in a randomness, terps seek more intimate communities, whether they be clubs, Greek life, or religious groups. That’s why I’m incredibly thankful for the Jewish community at Maryland. Of course, like any good Jew, I am perpetually critical and find flaws up, up, down down, right, left and all around. But no matter what my personal grievances may be, I’ve had the fortune of waltzing into a sorority from day one: Alpha Bet. No questions asked, no name tag required, and no hazing involved, except a healthy dose of harassment to donate to the new building fund.

Here at Alpha Bet, we’ve got everything you’d want from a sorority, but better. We don’t have forced friendships composed of boxes checked; we have genuine friendships, pre-shidduched through an endless stream of mutual friends and (mostly) pre-assured normalcy by their involvement in the Yeshiva League. We don’t have “rules;” only unspoken precedents and certain understandings, like which classes you should take for an A and that when Samson from the kitchen talks to you, you just smile and nod. We don’t have exactly a “house” for regular activities and a “satellite house” for parties; we have the Hillel building for certain functions, and your choice of thirteen out of fourteen apartments in the AFB building for certain activities that involve a little more space. And Chabad serves as a both geographical and ideological compliment to our sorority, with its physical existence nestled between the frats and the general “broey” atmosphere.

I loved that this weekend, although my chronic lateness forced me to “rush to Hillel” I didn’t have to “rush Alpha Bet.” Not much has changed since the times of Chanukah; as the Greek girls across campus did their hair, preparing to greet the sisters throughout the chapters of Frat Row, us girls of Alpha Bet similarly prepared our candles to greet the Shabbat queen through the verses of Kabbalat Shabbat. And while the sorority candidates struggled through the nervous small talk of new faces, we too struggled through yet another Friday Night Awkward Hour with familiar faces, that too long time gap in between davening and dinner, where you’re forced to attempt kiddish style discourse in a room full of the same nervous people every week, and the volume forces you to shout conversations that should never be shouted such as “I’m so tired” and “I feel like I never see you” just to appear socially adept. Finally, while the rushers participated in constructed reflections, we caught up naturally and comfortably over sloppy dorm room hangouts and games of Code Names in the lounges. This weekend was a testament to how the Greeks’ cookie cutter recruitment rituals pale in comparison to just belonging to Alpha Bet. After all, as the story goes, the Greeks had an army, but the Maccabees triumphed.

Because it’s not about cutting the cookie. It’s about how the sufganiah crumbles, jelly mess and all.

About the Author
Yakira Cohen is a twenty-two-year-old Modern Orthodox Jew. She is an SAR High School graduate (2016), Midreshet Lindenbaum alum (2017), and is a junior studying journalism and psychology at the University of Maryland.
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