Turning Obstacles into Victories
On July 6, 2016, AEPi held “The Fight on Campus” event at the home of Reva and former Mayor Martin Oliner in Lawrence, NY. Executive Director Andy Borans, PSM Elan S. Carr and two recent alumni, Nadav Alkoby (Florida Atlantic, 2016) and Max Bartell (Binghamton, 2016), spoke on AEPi’s expanding role in combating campus anti-Semitism, anti-Israel sentiment and BDS.
The below article was adapted from the original piece written by Jeff Bessen and featured in the LI Herald, the community newspaper for Nassau County, NY.
ALPHA EPSILON PI, A GLOBAL JEWISH FRATERNITY founded in 1913 and dedicated to helping members strengthen the democratic character of student life, both academically and socially, has remained relevant through its commitment to fighting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions on college campuses.
Organizations such as AEPi, Our Soldiers Speak and StandWithUs, along with the educational program Write On for Israel, which is sponsored by the Jewish Week, have taken on roles as advocates for Israel.
AEPi Executive Director Andrew S. Borans, who oversees more than 180 chapters throughout the U.S., Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, Austria and Australia with more than 10,000 undergraduate members; Elan Carr, a past international president of the fraternity; and recent graduates Nadav Alkoby (Florida Atlantic, 2014) and Max Bartell (Binghamton, 2016) spoke at the Lawrence home of Reva and Martin Oliner, the former village mayor, on July 6.
“Today, Jewish kids on campus are, for the most part, for Israel,” Borans said. “Some are not, and we’re working on them. Things are getting better, but we’re not just pushing them under the rug, and AEPi doesn’t retreat.”
Borans and Carr pointed to two incidents, about five months apart, that illustrate the character of AEPi brothers, as members of the fraternal group call one another. In April of last year, two swastikas were spray-painted in the elevator of the Tau chapter at Vanderbilt University, and another was painted on a basement door.
The chapter president, Josh Hyman, issued a statement that read in part, “We are going to work harder to build bridges throughout the Vanderbilt campus to fight anti-Semitism and hate of all kinds.”
Carr noted not only that the other Jewish groups at Vanderbilt, such as Chabad and Hillel, voiced their support for AEPi, but also that the non-Jewish fraternities and sororities, including the three Greek councils — Pan-Hellenic, Interfraternity Council and National Pan-Hellenic — did as well. “People came together with passion to achieve an end,” he said.
A more violent incident occurred at the University of Arizona in November 2014, when anti-semetic students forced their way into AEPi’s off-campus residence and assaulted members including then chapter President Gideon Rafal, who was severely injured.
Initially, there was no investigation of the incident, and no punishment. Then Borans got involved. “I put on my big-boy voice and I said [to university officials] I would go public and tell exactly what happened here,” he said.
Following an investigation by the school, several students were suspended. “You have to place the light of day on bad incidents, not retreat,” Borans said, “and be public about it.”
Senator Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) also attended the event and discussed his legislation barring the state funding of BDS student organizations.
“All is not bleak. Organizations like Alpha Epsilon Pi are fighting back,” Kaminsky said, “and it will take such sustained efforts to beat back the scourge of campus-based anti-Semitism. I’m glad that we were able to come together to discuss ways to combat it.”
In addition to being advocates for Israel, AEPi members are campus leaders. Members won 86 percent of the student government offices they ran for in the past school year, Borans said.
Those at the forefront of issues pertinent to Israel include recent graduates as well. Alkoby, fresh out of Florida Atlantic University, where he served as the Jewish Identity chairman for his AEPi chapter, said there are complicated issues to deal with, from the two-state solution — the co-existence of Israel and a country for the Palestinians — to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Movement, in which anti-Israel groups are pushing colleges, companies and governments to stop doing business with Israel and curtail the importing of Israeli products.
“Organizations like Alpha Epsilon Pi are fighting back, and it will take such sustained efforts to beat back the scourge of campus-based anti-Semitism.”
— SENATOR TODD KAMINSKY
“Everybody has the right to speak freely, but you just can’t attack Israel,” said Alkoby, who works in his family’s security business. “There can be criticism — I criticize Israel — but it shouldn’t be anti-Semitic.”
Bartell, who is headed to St. John’s University Law School, came from a family in which Shabbat dinners at his grandparents’ house were what being Jewish was all about for him, so being part of the AEPi Shabbat dinners was like joining another family, he said.
“This is a great opportunity to step forward and have an impact,” he said of being an advocate for Israel.