It has been a little more than a year since members of the Chi-Deutron chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi moved into their new house at the University of Washington, and so far things are going well.
“I’m very excited. We started with 13 members and we are now up to 22,” Jeff Roberts, the president for AEPi, said.
This Jewish fraternity, which was active in the 1950s, closed down in 1967 but reopened last December with Roberts as the driving force behind it.
Roberts explained that a couple of years prior to his enrollment at UW, several of his friends had made an attempt to start a Jewish fraternity but were unsuccessful. “I came to school wondering about Jewish fraternities. I knew we previously had them because I’m from the area, so I just started contacting people,” Roberts said.
“There is a vibrant Jewish community in Seattle. We want to make sure there is one on campus as well,” Roberts said. So an alumna of Alpha Epsilon Pi from Brown University, and father of a potential member, sent an e-mail to the AEPi national office expressing interest. Shortly after, a chapter consultant was sent to UW to advise Roberts and other responsive students. With Roberts efforts and help from Hillel: Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, AEPi has now become recognized by the Inter-Fraternity Council and is considered part of the Greek system.
“Now we’re like any other fraternity, only smaller. But we are growing,” Roberts said. The Chi-Deutron chapter gained eight pledges this year and is expecting at least 15 next year, Roberts said. Right now the house is composed of Reform and Conservative Jewish members, but since AEPi is a non-discriminatory house, it will accept non-Jewish members, Roberts said. “But we are a Jewish house, we do Jewish things and we have a Jewish philanthropy,” he said. “So if somebody does not have a problem with that and will be a productive member of the house, then it’s not a problem if they are not Jewish.”
“We are a living brotherhood for Jewish males to live in, but we are not a religious organization,” Roberts said. “We do, however, keep strong ties with Hillel. We attend all of their functions and volunteer there,” Roberts said. “Hopefully, when we are bigger and stronger, we can co-sponsor events with them.” Hillel was also the meeting place for the initial gatherings of AEPi, said Hillel Rabbi Dan Bridge. “We encourage Jewish young men to consider AEPi as a living option,” Bridge said. He added that Hillel also does programming with the members of the fraternity.
Since AEPi is a social organization, like all other houses in the Greek system, it will be participating in a national philanthropy
program, which is scheduled to start in spring or next fall. Members are currently brainstorming about philanthropy ideas, but they know that their proceeds will be sent to AEPi’s national program, Mazon, which is a Jewish organization that raises money to address the issue of hunger.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for Jewish males to be a part of the Greek system while living in a comfortable environment,” Roberts said. Many Greek houses are based on Christian ideals. During Christmastime, many of these houses have Christmas decorations, making it difficult for men to express their Judaism, Roberts said. “Our house is an option for Jewish men to be able to do that [express Judaism],” he said. Roberts added that they are planning to celebrate all major Jewish holidays.
“As a Jewish freshman from out of state,” said Jason Edelstein, “to be able to find a living environment like this, where you don’t need to explain why you’re going to services, is comforting and is an easy way of living and keeping your Judaism intact in your life.”
Although AEPi is a Jewish fraternity, it is not an observant organization. For example, whether to have a kosher kitchen is something the group will have to decide. “Right now our kitchen is not completely kosher, but it is kosher-styled,” Roberts said, explaining that not all of the meat is kosher but meat and milk are not served together during meals. Other than meals, being Jewish does not limit any other activities that AEPi partakes in, Roberts said, adding that the setting is very comfortable for Jewish males.
(Jennifer Morton is a student in the University of Washington School of Communications News Laboratory.)