Wednesday, June 17, 2009

AEPi Colonizes in Israel

Israel's first college fraternity opens
By Ilana Strauss, The Jerusalem Post

The Hebrew state is in for something new on Tuesday: Alpha Epsilon Pi, an international Jewish fraternity, is opening a branch at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. It will be the first college fraternity in the State of Israel.

Although a group of young men attending IDC have been participating in fraternity events throughout the year, their official initiation - making them full members of the international organization - will only take place on Tuesday.

They are going to become Brothers of Alpha Epsilon Pi in a ceremony at the Sheraton Jerusalem Plaza Hotel. AEPi undergraduates, alumni and international board members will attend the ceremony.

The Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity has been operating since 1913 and is "one of the oldest Jewish organizations in the world," Steven Kaplan, director of expansion for Alpha Epsilon Pi, said on Monday.

According to its mission statement, the fraternity began as a "brotherhood of young men who came from similar religious backgrounds" and had experienced prejudices against their religious beliefs."

It has grown to encompass more than 83,000 young men. Only recently has it set its sight on expanding to the Middle East.

Steven Kaplan traveled to Israel a few months ago to search out students interested in becoming part of a new fraternity in Israel. He found a group interested in joining, and they became the fraternity's "Aleph Colony."

Kaplan said the students were fantastic members, and that they "have gone above and beyond the standards that we set for them."

He was met with "much hesitation and uncertainty" during his efforts to bring the American fraternity tradition to Israel. Part of that hesitation stems from the images of fraternities and sororities in the media - drinking, sex and more drinking. Many fraternities and sororities in the United States are trying to change their party-hard image.

Intercollegiate Knights, for example, is a fraternity founded for community service. Last April, the Alpha Psi Lambda sorority at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign participated in a march to "support all-important research offering preventions and solutions for babies born too soon or with birth defects."

Alpha Epsilon Pi raised $135,000 for the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington and $100,000 for Magen David Adom. At IDC, the members of the AEPi fraternity have participated in social, philanthropic and athletic events.

David Cohen, a former member of the Zeta Phi fraternity at New York University, considers fraternities to be a way to create a community within a college. "It was a good way to absorb into school," he said. "It provides a mini community for you."

Community service is a significant part of Greek life in the United States, but Cohen said fraternities were "mostly social organizations." Members go to bars, throw parties and raise money for the fraternity, he said.

James Gardner, a student at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, said fraternities were a "double-sided sword." They allow for "wide social connections," but at the same time "limit the number of people one can associate with because of rivalries and cliques," he said.

As for the party life illustrated in films, Gardner said "there is some truth to the movies, though I think they are exaggerated a bit."

Israeli universities tend to have much less campus life than their American equivalents. Students are older and more independent here. Most of them have served in the army and they often have fulltime jobs. They place more emphasis on their studies, and less on extracurricular activities.

The introduction of fraternities and sororities to these universities might change this, increasing the social aspect of study and providing a sort of home away from home. On the other end of the spectrum, they might just be an excuse for students to neglect their studies.

Or they might simply not catch on.

Copyright 2009 The Jerusalem Post.