by Rabbi Stanley M. Davids
More than 1400 people gathered at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan August 7-11 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity. Proudly serving more than 9000 Jewish undergraduates on campuses located throughout the United States, in Canada, in Aberdeen (Scotland), in London, in France, and in Israel (where AEPi is now represented at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, IDC, the Technion and Beersheva). Alpha Epsilon Pi is far and away the most powerful Jewish fraternity in existence.
Founded under the famous Arch at NYU in 1913 by 11 Jewish undergraduates who were denied access to social life on campus because of their religion, AEPi now boasts close to 100,000 alumni, numbering among them some of the leading figures in commerce, sports, academia, and entertainment. AEPi’s are also heavily represented among the religious leaders of our generation. This year’s entering rabbinic class at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, for example, contains five members of the fraternity.
The celebrations in New York highlighted what Alpha Epsilon Pi is all about. A select group of 120 undergraduates participated in an intensive three day program called, “Israel Amplified.” Speakers included Russell Robinson (CEO, JNF), David Bernstein (Executive Director, The David Project), Izzy Tapoohie (President and CEO, Israel Bonds), Amb. Ido Aharoni, Israeli Consul-General, New York), and Malcolm Hoenlein (Executive Vice Chair and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations). “Israel Amplified” owes its existence to the creative support of The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, as well as to the backing of AEPi alum Howard Lorber.
The Centennial Convention opened on the campus of NYU, and was warmly greeted by Dr. John Sexton, president of the university. I had the privilege of conducting Friday evening services at The Intrepid Museum, in the presence of alumni who have achieved high rank in our military. Those who have given their lives in defense of all of the countries within which AEPi currently operates were memorialized. And typical of the entire event, meals were served which provided for those who are strict adherents of Kashrut. AEPi conducts no fraternal business on Shabbat.
A profoundly moving highlight of the Centennial was the opportunity to celebrate the charities which the undergraduates have chosen to support: including Save a Child’s Heart, Elem, Friends of the IDF, Keshet, Sharsheret and the Jewish National Fund. AEPi partnerships with B’nai B’rith International and the Simon Wiesenthal Center were also noted.
The closing formal banquet was wonderfully chaired by alum Wolf Blitzer. Malcolm Hoenlein laid out the challenge confronting all of us who are committed to the State of Israel. During the course of the evening, close to $1 million in new contributions to Alpha Epsilon Pi were announced – and brothers from Aberdeen, formally attired in kilts, offered a song of celebration.
More than 650 undergraduates were actively involved in the Convention, Jewish young men who openly embraced a positive Jewish identity, solid Israel advocacy, and a commitment to take on expanding leadership roles in the Jewish community. These young men are drawn from almost every segment of the Jewish spectrum.
The sun was indeed shining brightly on the Jewish future mid-August. Chabad recognized that light and has thrown significant resources into developing active partnerships with AEPi. Aish HaTorah recognized that light and has done the same. But I found myself constantly looking about for signs that other representatives of our religious streams were similarly engaged with the fraternity. Letters of support were received for the Centennial Journal, but programs and partnerships that could enrich the future of our people across the globe seemed to be lacking.
I wondered why that was so. I wondered why those who are deeply committed to recruiting more and more outstanding candidates for our seminaries, those who are actively struggling to find pathways through which our young people can become more significantly engaged in the Jewish future, those who appropriately worry about the coming darkness if the portals to such engagement are not opened wide – I wondered how long it will be before they, too, will invest significant resources into developing active partnerships with this truly extraordinary organization.
I trust that we will not need to wait for the Bicentennial celebration.
Rabbi Stanley M. Davids is a Past International President of Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity.