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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis U: Jew U?

Published: December 1, 2006
Section: Opinions

When I first told people that I had been accepted to Brandeis, I got many reactions to this news. One of the most common from my largely Protestant community of New Hampshire was, Youre going to college to become even more Jewish? Even now, when I meet up with high school friends who now attend such places as Babson College or Boston University, they ask me how “that whole Jewish University thing” is working out for me lately.

The reason behind their comments, which are made in jest, is simple. Brandeis is traditionally known for its strong Jewish background (and the killer fencing team). I mean, the school began as a non-sectarian Jewish university in the first place! However, its a common misconception that were all one big Jewish mispacha here. What is often overlooked when just glancing at Brandeis as a whole is a wonderfully diverse group of interesting people who are often collectively referred to as the other 45%.

When the topic of religion comes up, either in class or just chatting with a group of friends, at times Ive seen people react with surprise when another person says that he or she is not Jewish. However, this is actually a more common admission than past years. The incoming class of 2010 has a higher percentage of non-Jewish students than Jewish students! But, Brandeis being Brandeis, the school is still often seen as Jew U by those who arent a part of our big family.

What do people on the inside have to say about this though? Adam Jacobson '09, who works in admissions has a unique perspective: Honestly, there is a huge Jewish presence. But even though there is that massive presence, there are controls on it. Sherman integrates Jews and Gentiles. The Hillel lounge is next door to the Christian lounge. While there may be a large Jewish presence, Brandeis does a lot to prevent students from feeling overwhelmed. We definitely are [Jew U] to the outside world, yes. Im a tour guide, the link to the outside world. I know for a fact people see us that way.

Jen, a member of the class of 2009, also shared her thoughts on being a non-Jewish Brandeis student. Its a give and takeI wouldnt be as happy anywhere else, and Ive learned a great deal about my personal beliefs and about the beliefs of others from discussions about the pros and cons of certain beliefs and of certain traditions. Its more complicated than Brandeis is Jewish or it isnt. There are times non-Jews feel left out. We didnt grow up with the same traditions that most of the population takes for granted. But it also gives us a unique experience to learn, discuss, and further develop our own beliefs. Beth Moguel 10, had a few comments on the subject. I feel that the university is very open to and accepting of all religions and the fact that Brandeis is predominantly Jewish is just a part of it. Its a very different environment than I am used to, there were very few Jews in my high school. Ive learned a lot about the Jewish religion from friends and one of my roommates.

It is clear to the Brandeis community we are not what we seem to be from an outsiders perspective. We are a diverse mix of cultures, backgrounds, religions, and customs. Yes, to many we will always be Jew U, but we know that we are really a varied group of engaging, interesting, and bright people. So what if were all under this canopy of mispacha? Many of my friends are not Jewish and we dont think twice about it. Whats important is who we are beyond the label of the school. Jew U or not, were Brandeis, with a great fencing team. Were a community.

Editor's Note: Arielle Kaplan is a member of the fencing team.