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Breaking Misconceptions: Tale of a Good-Hearted Fraternity

We’re not the bad guys.

Of course that’s not what you’d like to believe. You’d rather adhere to the baseless prejudices and indoctrinated dialogue you’ve learned to accept your entire life. Inquiries lacking significance, questions without consequence. It’s only a real question if you’ve got something to lose from the answer. Welcome to change.

You’ve heard of us, sure. It’s been affiliated with every drunken association, every stupid facade of a word that few care to look closer or find meaning in. It’s hardly surprising to say, honestly, around here, that people are so intent on judging everything by perception, by the simple misguided few words or images you’ve seen on television or in the movies. The Upsilon Upsilon Colony of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity persists as the prime example here but, really, it’s just a model of reactions, a continuing pattern of misunderstanding and refusal to look deeper, for to most the mere facade of religiosity keeps them content.

On September 13, a few members of the Upsilon Upsilon Colony sat at a table in Rubin raising money and signing up individuals for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure that took place on September 18 in Central Park. While many individuals did stop to hear the pitch - that thousands of individuals across New York are joining in to help walk an “astonishing” 45 minutes to help raise awareness as well as support the victims of breast cancer - many students also simply walked past without even a glancing eye toward a charity foundation. Did we have a banner up that said “AEPI”? Absolutely not. This was viewed purely as a fundraising opportunity, and yet Jews of all kinds, velvet kippot, srugim, wearing tzitzit, black and white shirt and pants, casual garb, individuals of each walked by without a glance. Without even the will to give seven seconds to listen to a pitch about raising money for charity. Seven seconds. And yet, I’m sure, many of those individuals also said a bracha before they ate, and made sure to say mincha and ma’ariv and put on their tefillin. After a few weeks of hard work we raised in total $2900 dollars for breast cancer victims, more than any other “group” or “social club” on Yeshiva University’s campus—all, of course, with specific word from President Joel that we do not exist.

But of course, it doesn’t matter what we actually do. It doesn’t matter that each and every one of the 18 members of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity at Yeshiva University commits their time to the Literacy Program that helps middle and high school students with educational subjects spanning from reading to math to science. Was it mentioned that the AEPi fraternity literally doubled the number of tutors in the Literacy Program alone in last year’s Commentator article recognizing the tutors who commit their time to the program? Obviously not.

Or perhaps, should I talk about the national fraternities goals as an organization? Known universally as the Jewish Fraternity, AEPI National has committed itself to raising $700,000 in total for seven different charities, $100,000 designated to each to help with their various community-service and philanthropic goals. These charities include the Friends of the IDF, Elem – Youth in distress in Israel, The Jewish National Fund, Keshet, Leket Israel – the National food bank of Israel, Save a Child’s Heart Foundation, and of course Sharsheret. Philanthropy and community service is exactly where AEPI has come to garner the good name it has universally and why so many people and organizations want us, the Jewish Fraternity, to be involved in their affairs. AEPI’s reputation among fraternities is equally positive; our members have the highest cumulative GPA among fraternity organizations in the United States. This is of course not by accident; each chapter is expected to have during their pledge program for incoming students study sessions at least twice a week, so incoming fraternity members understand the significance AEPI places on education. Not to mention, of course, that AEPI Fraternity as a whole has a zero-hazing policy. It is not allowed in our fraternity to tell kids to blindly follow our instructions in order to join the fraternity, an ironic regulation to uphold in a place like YU. But, despite all our “acts of kindness”, despite our horrible acts of “philanthropic good will”, we still remain a sore spot in the public eye. Fraternity equals booze and parties, no complexity or explanation necessary. Well, I have a question for you. Do you volunteer for the literacy program? Have you raised, by September 20 and only three weeks into school, exactly $2,900 dollars for breast cancer awareness and the victims that suffer from it? I would say, because we have raised the most money for charity of all social groups or clubs at YU so far, that the answer to the question is likely a no.

But yet, the insistence on blind tradition wins. There’s no amount of charity or good will we could demonstrate to change your mind. There’s no amount of helping old ladies cross the street or helping the disabled that would alter your perception. But the administration said no-no so it’s a no-go. Because the rabbinical authorities, regardless of reality or authenticity, refuse to understand the complexity of misperceptions.

Example? Deal. On Monday, August 29, the AEPI Fraternity and some of its members set up a table on the corner of 186th Street and Amsterdam to recruit new undergraduates to join the terrible, evil fraternity that does community service and raises money for philanthropy. Whatever. Our table stood entirely 100% off campus property and we went on our jolly way throughout the day recruiting new students. Yet, at around 11:47 AM, a dean of Yeshiva University approached the table and asked us very, very sternly to take down the table. He said he hoped to meet with us to discuss how we would not “step” on their toes nor would they “step” on ours – this, of course, with our receiving absolutely zero funding from the school and not even the slightest possibility of running any philanthropic events in the gym under the title AEPI. Out of misguided respect the individuals folded the table and went on their way, having been told by a dean of Yeshiva University to remove a table that was 100% off campus property because it was something the University simply did not like. If that does not sound like attempting censorship to you, I am not quite sure what will.

Regardless, we failed not in recruiting. Because we are the Jewish leaders of the future. Because here, especially here, this University needs more people who are willing to speak up and speak their mind regardless of backlash or societal condemnation. Oscar Wilde once said, “Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience and rebellion that progress has been made.” Are our religious forefathers individuals who simply tagged along for the ride, simply following in the footsteps of those around them so as not to be considered outcasts? Was Avraham a man who simply went with societal flow? Was he not personally condemned by not only society but his own father as well? Was Moshe not hated by the Jews of Egypt early and often in failing to lead them to exodus and only causing them more backbreaking work? Name me one great man who sat in a classroom all day doing exactly as told by all individuals of higher positions of authority. And yet, despite Yeshiva University’s censorship notions and hope to control all that they can’t, the Alpha Epislon Pi Fraternity continues strongly. Despite the University’s demands that our table be taken down, our fraternity has recruited as strongly as one would expect from any group with individuals who act with purpose. The Upsilon Upsilon Colony offered 18 bids this semester to individuals we thought would be both excellent leaders and fit the mold of what it means to be in our fraternity. This leag only to more students in the Literacy Program, more undergraduates to help raise what has already been an astonishing sum of $2900 by 18 Fraternity members through 3 weeks of school. The number that accepted bids? 18. That’s life for the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity on the one and only Wilf campus. That’s chai, baby.