Fraternity and sorority houses are getting really bad press these days. Rowdy behavior, excessive alcohol consumption and potentially life threatening hazing procedures are all contributing to the decline of a once proud college tradition. Indeed, in recent days strident voices have been raised to ban the houses completely from several college campuses.
Ironically, fraternities were created to develop scholastic excellence, leadership abilities, and a sense of communal responsibility in their brothers.
Jewish fraternities and sororities in particular, also provided a fraternal ‘comfort zone’ where students could regain the sense of family and Jewish tradition they had left at home.
Closing down these houses would be your classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Alpha Epsilon Pi, the largest Jewish fraternity, which attracts 1500 new brothers every year, boasts that “tomorrow’s Jewish leaders are in our chapters today.”
If that’s so, can the Jewish community afford to let these’ babies’ go down the drain?
The Chabad rabbis who direct the nationwide campus programs, don’t think so. And in fact, they are doing something about it.
Chabad is working closely with several Jewish fraternities and sororities across the country. Together they are forging a relationship which has already seen positive results. In a tangible, Jewish way.
Rabbi Levi Haskelevitch, Chabad’s campus coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University is making headway at AEPi Drexel.
During the past fall term, Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity members assisted the Chabad program known as the Jewish Relief Agency of Philadelphia, with delivering canned food and other non-perishables to underprivileged families. Forty members of AEPi , more than half of the entire chapter, took food to over 200 needy families.
Alpha Epsilon Pi Philanthropy Chair Ari Silver said that “The (Chabad) Jewish Relief Agency provides a valuable service to those who really need the help, and the brothers of AEPi are proud to volunteer their time and resources to further such a good cause,”
Rabbi Haskelevitch notes that “for brothers to get up early on a Sunday morning, after staying up very late the night before, just so they can help their fellow man, is an awesome testimony of the power of mitzvot to affect young people.”
Several other programs during the school year bring together the AEPi brothers and Chabad rabbis.
AEPi brothers began a weekly shiur, a Jewish discussion group, in the fraternity house. The brothers provide food and invite friends to come and discuss Jewish issues. A Jewish women’s club which will hopefully turn into a sorority in the future, has also been started.
Other programs include: sending Menorahs to Israeli soldiers during Chanukah, organizing a Megillah reading on Purim and on Shavuot they actually had the reading of the Ten Commandments in the frat house.
It’s no coincidence, that AEPi Drexel recently won the university’s best chapter award, and the brothers say they won in part because of their involvement with Chabad.
David Levy, the vice president of the AEPi Drexel chapter says that “Rabbi Levi and my brotherhood have a very close connection. He’s at our house at least once a week and his friendly face is a strong reminder of our Jewish identity.”
Rob Neff, the director of religious programming for the chapter agrees that Chabad “creates a welcome environment for every Jew. They make it comfortable for everyone to get involved in Jewish life. In fact, Rabbi Levi’s dedication to the Jewish community at Drexel has inspired people to further explore their on Judaism.”
He also notes that “Chabad is a great resource for us, they are always there to back up our programs and invite us to theirs. This has made it easier for us to create quality Jewish programming.”
Haskelevitch even received a bid to become an honorary brother and life member of AEPi. “The initiation was a very touching and welcome- to -the family event” he said. Thankfully, he only had a mild (okay, very mild) hazing.
Nuri Boardman, a former AEPi Drexel brother is presently a leadership consultant for AEPi International:
“I was around when we made Rabbi Levi a brother” he recalls “and I felt that was a great way to honor and give back to him because he spent so much time with us. He goes out of his way to come to our house, rather than make us go to him and that helps us stay connected to Judaism while we’re in college.”
“Wherever Chabad has campus programs, it’s always a positive experience for the Jewish fraternity houses.”
Making Judaism positive is the key to Chabad’s success worldwide. “We can channel the enormous energies of these young people into positive outlets” says Rabbi Haskelevitch. “ Now if they have a rush event, instead of taking them to bars, they bring them to Chabad house for Shabbat dinner…. “
“Last winter the Chabad House received a wonderful Chanukah present from the brothers,” Haskelevitch recalls fondly. “They made us a Menorah.”
The brothers actually designed and executed the entire project. They drew up the plans, built it and paid for it. They used pvc pipes and built us a seven foot Menorah. The first night it was used outside of their fraternity house for a Menorah lighting ceremony and then they installed it outside of the Chabad House. “We now have it stored and will use it every Chanukah,” says Haskelevitch.
Rabbi Haskelevitch is not the only AEPi brother/rabbi. Rabbis Berel Goldman, University of Florida in Gainesville; Rabbi Dov Klein, Northwestern University in Chicago; and Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah, Jewish Student Life of San Diego; were all initiated into AEPi and became honorary brothers.
The four brothers are among the group of Chabad rabbis on campus who are planning meetings with AEPi executives in the near future to further cement the bond and collaboration between the Greeks and Chabad.
Rabbi Dov Klein describes a unique project in his Northwestern U chapter. “We had something called ‘dog days’ where they sold hot dogs for a whole week and then hosted an all day concert to raise money for Jewish children with cancer. Recently we came back from the Birthright Israel trip which included a delegation from AEPi, and we’re recruiting now for an even larger representation next year.”
Rabbi Berl Goldman, Gainesville, Florida says that the relationship the Chabad Houses have with Jewish fraternities and sororities around the country is a supportive one.
“Whether it’s AEPi or anyone else, their charter states that they have to enhance their Jewish identities. What makes that possible is the connection with Chabad. We create ‘hip’ Jewish activities for their chapters. We reach out to them and the relationship is a treasured one. They need the connection to Yiddishkeit and they feel the strength that we provide.”