Until recently, the North American notion of a fraternity was completely foreign to most Israelis, who at best thought of it as the wild social club portrayed in American college movies. Seeking to change that misconception, the American Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi has recently started the first fraternity branch to ever be founded in Israel,
at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary center.
AEP is a home and a social organization with 140 active chapters for Jews all over the United States and Canada. The fraternity provides its members with a sense of brotherhood and belonging especially at places where there isn't a large Jewish community.
Ival Erenfroind-Cohen, an Israeli who spent time working with the AEP community in San Francisco and who works with Hillel at the IDC explained that the founding of the local branch, “is an opportunity to show Israelis the North American way of preserving the Jewish community that would be great to translate to here.
Founding fathers at initiation ceremony in Jerusalem (Photo: Evan Lowsky)
"Israeli’s assume that the Jewish community is a given, because we are all Jews, but a lot of us don’t do anything to actively feel like we are a part of something, because we are secular and shy away from Judaism. This is a chance to change that.”
The IDC is being used as the launching pad for AEP's expansion in Israel because it is a strong international school with many American students who already understand the concept of a fraternity and who can help bring together the international and Israeli students on campus.
Steven Kaplan, Director of Expansion for AEP said: “I think that this is the perfect time for AEP to come to Israel because we can provide an outlet to bridge the gap between the North American Jewish community and the Israeli Jewish community.”
Some 150 North American brothers travelled to Israel this month to attend the local branch's inauguration ceremony at Jerusalem's Sheraton Hotel.
Ron Bernstein, one of the founding fathers and scribe of the new IDC chapter explained that, “At first I thought opening a fraternity in Israel was a ridiculous idea, but I jumped on board because I realized that this is not just a cookie cutter fraternity. We are an outpost with shades and colors of Israel that are specific to living here and we get to be a part of shaping that.
"The initiation was a microcosm of brothers, fixed on, and supporting us. The event made me realize that we are a part of something so much bigger than just what is here at the IDC.
Kaplan said of the Israeli chapter of AEP that, “Here we are creating the future leaders of Israel. We are giving them their own opportunity to create and plan events that bring people together; to build leadership skills through teamwork and brotherhood.” There are 15 founding fathers at the IDC and they hope to get 20 new pledges a semester who through athletic, social, and philanthropic events will teach the values of the AEP family in Israel.