By Jeremy Kahan
Until recently, Santa Cruz’s AEPi had always gone to Shabbat at Chabad and Hillel once a quarter, but, unfortunately, that was about the extent of its Jewish activity. Not all of its brothers were Jewish and the level of religious observance varied greatly.
As the current Jewish Life Chair of the fraternity, I have witnessed AEPi embrace its once forgotten Jewish identity. The change is obvious as soon as you walk into one of the fraternity houses; the entrance now has a mezuzah. Just this year, the AEPi brothers celebrated Tu b’Shvat, the Jewish Arbor Day, and are now familiar faces at Shabbat dinners.
Alex Naftali, an alumnus and former brother, wrote an article in the Spring 2013 Leviathan lamenting the state of AEPi’s Jewish life. He described the fraternity’s growing pains—as membership increased, Jewish identity became diluted. “The brothers’ interest in Jewish events has practically vanished,” observed Naftali. “Our initial foundation is missing.”
Since Naftali’s article, the chapter discovered a newfound enthusiasm for Judaism in its younger members. The new members were not solely interested in the classic Greek fraternity experience. Instead, they sought to once again distinguish themselves as the Jewish fraternity.
Although we still accept both Jewish and non-Jewish brothers, there is an understanding that Jewish events are an important part of AEPi life and identity. Notably, many non- Jewish brothers now attend Shabbat dinners out of genuine interest rather than obligation. It is common for brothers of all backgrounds to sit at Chabad on a Friday night and listen to the voice of Rabbi Shlomie Chein sing Eishet Chayil—a hymn over a millenium older than AEPi.
Putting on tefillin, a commandment that dates back to the time of Moses, is one of the biggest milestones in a Jewish man’s life. Yet Adam Lieber, the current President of our AEPi chapter, had never been given this opportunity. Only at AEPi’s first “Tefillin and Chillin” event did he finally fulfill this mitzvah.
“It was a special moment as a Jew. Even more special since it was with my brothers,” Adam remarked. It was a memorable occasion within AEPi’s brotherhood that signaled a new revival of old traditions.