Last week, the AEPi staff took an hour to get on a call together just to check in. It has been an arduous three weeks since the October 7 terror attacks in Israel. Almost everyone had the same report. Our friends and family are in Israel. Some live in the areas that were attacked by Hamas terrorists. Others are in the military on the front lines. Our social media feeds contain lists and pictures of the dead, the missing, and the unidentified. Like the rest of our community, we feel powerless; we are not in a good mental health space, and we are compartmentalizing in order to continue our daily lives. We also know that we have it better than those we are worried about in Israel.
My staff has also borne witness to an unprecedented spike in antisemitism and antizionism on North American college campuses. Campus antisemitism has been on the rise for years. From 1999 to 2019 this primarily exhibited as anti-Israel activity and activism. Many of us knew what was going on behind the clever PR stunts and carefully crafted messaging. We witnessed the rallies and heard the antisemitic rhetoric come out once presented with historical facts. In 2019, we started to feel a shift on campus toward an older and more overt form of antisemitism. The swastikas appeared as did many of the classic tropes. Somehow, there seemed to be a comfort level in presenting simple jew hatred. We expected the trend to continue but in the last month we have witnessed over 45 SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) “sleeper cells” awaken. These are student groups that promote the Hamas agenda. They are domestic campus-based branches of a terrorist organization and, unfortunately, they are often funded, sponsored, and recognized by universities.
AEPi has tracked more than 140 incidents on campuses over the last four weeks including everything from antisemitic tropes and chants, to vandalism, to physical assault. It is clear that the war in Israel also has a North American front at colleges.
I have never been more proud to be an AEPi. Over the past month I have witnessed the mobilization of AEPi men on an unprecedented scale. We have created a report of some of the tremendous efforts on campus here and I have also heard thousands of stories of AEPi alumni mobilizing to help in every way imaginable. We also know that our brothers and alumni in Israel are fighting and supporting those who are.
The fact that AEPi men jumped into action is no accident. In our Passover Haggadah we read text in Maggid, “In every single generation people rise up to destroy us.” This ancient truth has not been lost on AEPi. For decades, AEPi has been doing the work to build a community of leaders, readying for a moment such as the one we find ourselves in today. We have developed our educational philosophy and implemented a program unique within the Jewish community because we know that leaders cannot be trained in the moment they are needed. They must be ready for the moment they are called upon. They have to be ready for this very moment. That is where AEPi comes in.
I am proud of our success…AEPi men jumped to action and lead, because that’s what leaders do. It did not require AEPi headquarters telling them to do something or to push out a program. It did not require staff coordination on campus. Our undergraduates snapped into action, took ownership of the moment, and responded to their campuses’ needs. As the days went by those needs have shifted from processing grief and anger, to proudly standing with Israel, to defying hateful and antisemitic narratives on campus. It is not the first time AEPi has supported an Israel at war. In 1948, 1967, 1973, and 2000 our undergraduates rose to the occasion and although the challenges may be different our undergraduates will do so again. AEPi men everywhere will be engaged in a prolonged fight for Eretz Yisrael, am Yisrael, and our safety across the globe. We are prepared and we are ready to lead.
Coincidentally, this week started our annual celebration of AEPi’s founding. Famously, on November 7, the Immortal Eleven gathered under Washington Arch in New York City and proclaimed themselves to be a new national fraternity. I’m sure that our founders would be unsurprised to see the same kind of hate and antisemitism that they battled 110 years ago continues to exist today. I’m just as sure that our founders would be proud to see the actions their Brothers are taking on 150 campuses around the world.
You will hear more from AEPi over the coming days about our Founder’s Day campaign but please let me be the first to thank each of our Brothers and our supporters for doing your part to help our fraternity continue to thrive. During these most difficult of times for Jews around the world — and especially in Israel – our Brotherhood remains strong, our commitment to our mission to develop the leaders of the Jewish community remains steadfast and the need for our fraternity has never been more apparent.
Proud to be a Pi. Am Yisrael Chai.
Please support the AEPi Founders Day campaign here.