Orthodox Jews pursue alternative housing arrangements
Unique practices, such as keeping Kosher, create unique living communities
March 21, 2013, 1:00 am·
While many students are stressing over their roommates for next year, College sophomore Doniel Sherman always knew who he would live with.
“I have always lived with Orthodox Jews,” Sherman said. “It was a choice I consciously made in the housing process.”
Sherman’s housing experience reflects the tendency of religious Jews at Penn to live with one another.
For many Jews, it is important to have roommates whom they share customs with. Some Jews keep a kosher kitchen — separating dairy and meat products, among other things — and do not use electronics on Shabbat, which is every Friday night to Saturday night.
To ensure that he lived with like-minded people in terms of his religious practices, Sherman requested his freshman year roommates, whom he came into contact with through the Penn Jewish community.
This year, many are competing for the 25 spots in the Jewish Cultural Studies Program in Rodin College House. Students had to write an essay and make a presentation of ideas for social and educational activities for next year. Once in the program, students are evaluated in the middle of the year based on their participation to determine the number of priority points they will receive in the following year’s room selection process.
Others do not immediately enter into Jewish housing. College sophomore Aviva Koloski lived in the Quadrangle her freshman year with random roommates, “but I did it knowing that I would live with Orthodox people next year,” she said.
While Koloski’s freshman year roommates were accommodating of her religious traditions, some of her friends “struggled” with having non-Jewish roommates, she added.
However, there is some overlap between the different Jewish denominations — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — in the Jewish housing system.
“There are houses or rooms where denominations do overlap,” Hillel president and College junior Josh Cooper said. “In either case, it’s not about denomination but who I’m friends with.”
Others make their closest friends through the Hillel community, whom they end up wanting to room with.
“If the Jewish community is such a big part of my life, it makes sense that they would be my roommates,” Cooper added.
Orthodox Jews at Penn seem to follow a housing pattern, Koloski explained. According to Koloski, freshmen usually live in Harnwell College House or choose to have random roommates for the “freshman experience.”
Upperclassmen typically live in the lower floors of Rodin or in off-campus “Orthodox Houses,” she added.
Rooms in Rodin and Orthodox houses host birthday parties, Onegs — receptions following Friday night services — and other events that the community takes part in.
“To me, there’s a lot of strong benefits to living with people you have a community with,” Cooper said.