This Op-Ed was written by Brother Yonah Shafner (Brandeis, 2022) in partnership with StandWithUs.
Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Being both a Brother of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and an Emerson Fellow for StandWithUs was an unbelievable experience. Having AEPi as my team and support system allowed me to be the best Emerson Fellow I could be.
Organizing events on a college campus is already difficult, but events associated with controversial topics are an additional challenge. Whether it was a tabling event or advertising my next Israel social event, it would always draw criticism. While they were usually not so horrible–just a small comment about apartheid or Palestinian refugees– but these comments got to me. Trying to advertise for Israel is not easy, and when other students are telling you that what you’re doing is wrong, it’s even harder.
Having AEPi’s support in my Israel advocacy changed everything. I no longer had to stand up for Israel alone, I had nearly fifty Brothers to back me up. Whether it was to help me with tabling, come to events I organized, or connect me with the other Israel leaders on the campus, my Brothers were my backbone.
However, I came to realize that along with the support of my Brotherhood, I was using AEPi as a crutch to avoid reaching my full potential as an advocate for Israel. The first event I planned as an Emerson Fellow was an Israel Trivia Night, which I advertised exclusively to my chapter Brothers. I thought this would be easier and less controversial than inviting the entire student body. It was a relative success–or at least I thought so–with 45 people attending and learning something new about Israel.
It wasn’t until the StandWithUs International Conference the following January that I realized my mistake. Hearing all the other Emerson Fellows talk about their time trying to advertise Israel on their campus inspired me; each of the fellows dealt with much more hatred and animosity towards Israel than I experienced at Brandeis University. The conference inspired me to move outside the confines of my chapter. While it was great to have my chapter Brothers’ support, we were all like-minded men. Using AEPi as my support system, I began to table and advertise events for everyone on campus, rather than just to those who I knew would appreciate it. This allowed me to challenge others’ misconceptions about Israel, and extend the reach of this type of work.
My events were a great success, having over 200 people attend the events made me realize that this was the success I was looking for. Although my Israel trivia event at the beginning of the year served its purpose and educated my chapter, utilizing the support of my chapter and educating the campus as a whole is the true success story. AEPi and StandWithUs gave me the tools and the inspiration to stand up for what I believe in, regardless of what others think.
We often shy away from standing up for what we believe in because of social pressure or fear of confrontation. This was the case for me, at least. I consider myself very easy going, I am not someone who will shout from the rooftops to defend my beliefs regardless of how right I know I am. Rather, I would avoid confrontation and look for peace. Being an Emerson Fellow showed me to step outside my comfort zone and stand up for my beliefs about Israel, regardless of how uncomfortable it made me.