A Balanced Experience
Joseph Greene 07C
My first visit to Emory was on a warm Friday afternoon in mid-April of my junior year in high school. I was here to visit my cousin, who was in his third year at Emory law school, and to feel out the campus, determining whether or not it would be the right place for me spend the next (and arguably the most important) four years of my life.
After arriving from the airport and changing into something more presentable than the T-shirt and jeans I had worn to school that day, I headed over to campus with my cousin and we and found our way to the Dobbs Hall parlor. There, Rabbi Zalman Lipsker was just beginning the Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath) service. I was immediately drawn to the intensely spiritual environment Rabbi Lipsker created and became a regular at his services once I began college at Emory.
As the academic year progressed and the dust settled after the Greek rush process in late January of my freshman year, I found myself a pledge of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, currently the largest national Jewish fraternity. My involvement has given me the opportunity to interact with many other Jewish and non-Jewish students from a host of backgrounds, as well as assume leadership roles within the fraternity. I might add that it has made meeting Jewish girls a little easier as well.
This year, I have been elected as the “risk manager” for my fraternity, a position requiring me to manage our brotherhood Sober Driver Program and see that precautions are taken at all fraternity functions to ensure a safe environment, thereby minimizing the fraternity’s liability. I had the pleasure of serving as the philanthropy chair last year, during which time we held our first Bone Marrow Donor Drive. The event helped to register two hundred new donors on the bone marrow donor registry, which is severely lacking in those of eastern European ethnicity, especially Ashkenazic Jews.
The drive was cosponsored by Emory Hillel, which led to my continued involvement in and support of that organization. In the spring, I was elected copresident of the Hillel with Haley Rosengarten 07C for the 2006–2007 academic year. Our initiatives span social events, philanthropic efforts, and religious and interfaith programs. Popular events include a mock Jewish wedding, our Half-Shekel campaign to benefit the Jewish Federation of Atlanta, and regular Shabbat dinners to which anyone is invited. We attempt to provide students with the means to explore the Jewish faith in whatever manner they wish.
Personally, Hillel afforded me a comforting sense of identity by its very existence. And, as the Jewish life organization primarily sought out on college campuses, it is our duty to offer a wide array of programming and a multifaceted approach toward engaging all students, from seniors to first-year students.
Having attended a Jewish day school before college, my involvement in religious life at Emory felt like a seamless transition. Academically, though, in high school I had become accustomed to learning in a dual-curriculum environment, with both Judaic and secular studies. As such, I sought out the Jewish studies department at Emory as a supplement to the first major I had undertaken on my path to medical school, neuroscience and behavioral biology. The faculty and course material have proved invaluable to rounding out my primarily science-based education with some liberal arts flair. I have had the opportunity to study Israeli politics, Talmud (a collection of rabbinic commentaries on Jewish law), and Sephardic Jews (of Spanish or Middle Eastern descent) history on location in Spain. I look forward to a senior seminar that will surely augment my Southern education here in Atlanta, “Jews of the American South.”
Some would argue that religion is not beneficial for the academic system because of its often biased and dogmatic viewpoints. But my consciousness of this tendency has prompted me to explore all sides of an issue, rather than accept doctrine I may have been taught. Such an approach to religious education allows for a more thorough integration of all religions into a society, each bringing its own culture and values structure. Only then can a dialogue for the promotion of tolerance effectively take place. Understanding the concerns and desires of those around us is the most effective tool in combating the sense of apathy that allows for bigotry and intolerance in our society.
Emory’s progressive campus is an open forum for exchange among students. Religious activism, social activism, and cultural activism are all popular forms of expression and promote a pluralistic environment. These endeavors strengthen the lifelong bonds between students, the faculty, and the University, all culminating in a better educated, cosmopolitan Emory.