Editor’s note: This is the first in a series on the state of Jewish affairs on major Texas campuses.
By Ben Tinsley
COLLEGE STATION — The Jewish student population at Texas A&M University is really small compared to other colleges — especially for one with the most students in the state.
But several changes are in play here that many hope will greatly increase College Station’s Spring 2015 semester ratio of 500 Jewish students out of a total of 52,505.
Several Jewish students and student leaders say they are hard at work creating the new organizations, programs and contacts to make that happen.
“It’s a great time to be an Aggie — especially a Jewish Aggie,” said student Dan Rosenfield. “… Even though we are very, very small, we make ourselves known.”
Members of the Texas A&M Student Senate, incidentally, made national news when they passed a resolution celebrating Israel on April 22. The resolution called for more connections and deeper relationships with Israel.
The A&M Israel resolution was passed around the same time the University of Texas’ student government assembly was wrestling with a divisive resolution proposed Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions followers.
As far as the Texas A&M Israel measure is concerned, it represents the very positive feelings the Texas A&M student body has for Jews and for Israel, said Gabriel Pereira, the outgoing chairman of the Texas A&M College Republicans. (He is not Jewish.)
“I think it sent a big signal, considering that other college campuses have been a breeding ground for BDS,” Pereira said.
A&M was the first Texas campus to pass pro-Israel legislation — which dovetails nicely with the plans Texas A&M has to become the first major U.S. university to build a stand-alone campus in Israel.
The motion with the students is credited to efforts from leaders of the student-run Texas A&M Hillel, whose executive director is Rabbi Matt Rosenberg, and Rohr Chabad Jewish Center, led by Rabbi Yossi and Manya Lazaroff.
Texas A&M Hillel is recognized as the oldest Hillel Foundation organization in the United States with professional leadership from the Hillel staff and support from the Texas A&M Hillel Corporate Board. A very tight-knit group of student leaders there works closely with Rabbi Rosenberg, who is also a campus rabbi, to plan and expand and attract new students.
Rabbi Yossi and Manya Lazaroff, established an early version of the Chabad House in July 2007 with a similar mission. Theirs is more than a Jewish student center; it’s a second home for students to meet, converse and plan their futures. (And if you’re feeling sick, they’ll be happy to bring a delicious bowl of matzo ball soup to your dorm room.)
Both organizations say the university has been very open to growing the Jewish population at Texas A&M. These organizations will be explored in greater detail in separate Texas Jewish Post stories.
The opportunities available have helped empower student leaders such as Dan Rosenfield and Delaney Becker.
Rosenfield, who is from Plano, has many duties. He is president of Texas A&M Hillel, creator of “Jewish Leaders of Tomorrow” (a leadership development program for freshmen and sophomores) and campus liaison of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He also helped found what he describes as the first and only pro-Israel group at Texas A&M — Aggie Students Supporting Israel, which works with organizations such as AIPAC.
“We’re not like UT, which has, like, 10 million Jews,” he said. “We have to rely on non-Jewish partners in this community. We are blessed to have many.”
Another school to consider
Andi Rosenfield, Daniel Rosenfield’s mom, said there are many quality Jewish students at Texas A&M.
“When I talk to Jewish families who are starting the college search I tell them to consider A&M and share our story — it’s been a good place for Daniel,” she said.
The same could be said for Delaney Becker, 20, of Dallas, another hard-charging student. She is the granddaughter of Dallas-area Holocaust survivor Max Glauben.
Becker is president of the Chabad Jewish student group. She was also president of the Zeta Beta Sigma sorority and the leader who facilitated its transition and colonization to Alpha Epsilon Phi, the first nationally recognized Jewish sorority at Texas A&M.
Becker has also been honored by the city of College Station. Mayor Nancy Berry recently proclaimed May 3 as Delaney Becker Day for her many contributions to the student and local Jewish community.
“She is a leader who not only strives to get things done, but also strives to pass down what she has learned to others, exemplifying what being a true leader means,” Mayor Berry announced in her proclamation.
In other stories, the Texas Jewish Post will explore the many changes on the Texas A&M campus and how that reflects on the Jewish student community there.
For instance, Rabbi Yossi and Manya Lazaroff recently arranged with Texas A&M to have kosher food items sold at the campus cafeteria.
Also, there have been great strides when it comes to organizations in the Greek community: In addition to Jewish fraternity Sigma Alpha Mu (“The Sammys”) and the recently established sorority Alpha Epsilon Phi Colony, representatives from Alpha Epsilon Pi’s national office recently inducted six students into a Texas A&M colony they hope will eventually evolve into a full-fledged AEPi chapter. Two representatives from AEPi’s national office will visit A&M during Rush next semester to help recruit new members. It is hoped as many as 10 more can be added to the A&M AEPi roster at that time.