San Jose State University delays sorority rush for High Holy Days

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San Jose State University officials have curtailed a plan to hold sorority rush at the beginning of the High Holy Days, following talks with the area Jewish Community Relations Council.

Instead of holding rush activities throughout the two days of Rosh Hashanah, which begins today at sundown, rush will be postponed until Sunday, the second day of the Jewish New Year.

"They didn't realize the [entire first day] of Rosh Hashanah was so important," said Stephanie Shernicoff, director of the San Jose-area JCRC, based in Los Gatos. "It took a little while for it to click, but once it did, they did everything they could to accommodate everyone."

The university's five sororities had originally scheduled rush receptions throughout the weekend. Women interested in pledging a sorority were required to make a round of visits to the houses and then make a choice. That schedule would have included receptions that extended until 9 p.m. Friday, as well as on Saturday and Sunday.

After hearing from anguished students and alumnae, officials agreed not to schedule any receptions after 6 p.m. Friday, but many were still slated to take place on Saturday and Sunday.

"They said any girl could be [legitimately] excused, but still, that leaves her out," said Susan Lowe, program director for the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center of Greater San Jose in Los Gatos. "I got really upset. That was such a big part of my life, and I would have missed out on it if I were to start college now."

The university finally decided to reschedule its final rush activities for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

The 27,000-student San Jose State campus includes about 4,000 to 5,000 Jewish students, according to Lowe, a recent graduate of the university and a Chi Omega alumna.

Ultimately, the decision to hold rush on Rosh Hashanah may affect only a handful of students, "and that was their logic — that the numbers just weren't high enough to make it worth their while" to reschedule, Lowe said.

Lowe was not happy with the university's final compromise, which involved holding rush activities during the second day of Rosh Hashanah. After consulting with Jewish faculty members, "I had the impression Rosh Hashanah is only one day," said Andie MacDonald, San Jose State Greek life director. "It was an honest mistake." When a policy affects only a small group of Jews, they are more likely to call the JCRC, rather than stand alone and risk disappointment or the wrath of the majority, Shernicoff said.

"We get a lot of calls like this around the High Holy Days as well as…religious-liberties calls" related to the observance of the December holidays in the public schools.

While the JCRC was able to change the schedule at San Jose State, such efforts don't always meet with success, said Lindsay Greensweig, executive director of Silicon Valley Hillel, which serves eight South Bay campuses.

For instance, Santa Clara University's first day of classes is on Yom Kippur.

"They said no one would be penalized for missing school," but that may not be entirely true, Greensweig said. Students who miss the first day are unable to "crash" classes that were already closed by the time they registered. They also may miss important information. But university officials were not persuaded by those arguments.

"They were very nice, but they weren't willing to do anything," she said.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.