By Deb Silverthorn
Dallas-based male college students returning to class this month have a new organization to join, as the Metroplex now hosts the recently chartered Tau Iota chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), a Jewish fraternity.
Founded by a group of University of Texas at Dallas students in the fall of 2017, the chapter is now recognized by its national headquarters, joining more than 190 campuses in eight countries.
“The camaraderie of my brothers, and those in our community, is very important to me and the relationships we are building, I’m certain I will have forever,” said Ethan Fisher, the Tau Iota chapter’s current master who was recently voted Outstanding Member.
First adopted in 2017, with Aaron Noble as founding master, the chapter welcomes students from community colleges and other schools in the area that don’t have a chapter. AEPi’s Tau Iota is based at UT-Dallas, but is not yet a recognized organization of the university.
“I’ve become incredibly close to those who started our chapter, and those who I’m active with now,” said Fisher, a UT-Dallas junior majoring in mechanical engineering. “This isn’t only a social organization, as much as I enjoy that aspect of it, but the philanthropy and the education and the leadership training that we experience is a huge part as well. Sharing all of that with a Jewish community of men, and the bond that comes from mutual background is very strong — that, and we have a great time together.”
The chapter has made its mark through activities of Jewish philanthropy, recruiting, education and service to community. It honors the national organization’s Repair the World Fund, which supports BBYO, B’nai B’rith’s Disaster Relief Program, Gift of Life, Heroes to Heroes, Israel Children’s Cancer Foundation, IDF Widows & Orphans Organization, Innovation: Africa, MadaTech Museum, Simon Wiesenthal Center and Birthright Israel. Locally, the group has taken on projects to clean up roadside trash, hosted a bone marrow registration drive and worked with Jewish Family Service on several projects.
“Being a part of a fraternity of Jewish brothers adds to my life in which my Judaism plays a big part,” said Fisher. “Whether it’s the programming and events that are religiously related, or even for those that are not, it’s the commonality and connection of our core that brings us together, and that enhances my own experiences. It isn’t about religious observance or experiences, but experiences shared by those of a common religion.”
The brothers lent their services to build sukkahs for community members, hosted a Hanukkah party and numerous Shabbat dinners, and have collaborated with Hillel on many programs. The chapter also hopes to connect with synagogues and other Jewish organizations to provide support, to share in programming and to create community.
Serving as the chapter’s adviser is Lance Friedensohn, who was the founding master of the University of Oklahoma chapter in 2007. Now the program director and campaign associate at the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, Friedensohn is a sounding board of the experiences of building a chapter.
“It can be difficult in a community with a smaller Jewish population and in schools with fewer Jewish students, but being a part of something with shared values is important whether the group is big or small,” said Friedensohn, who graduated from Arlington Lamar High School. “I attribute much of who I am to what I learned and how I grew through AEPi, and I’m happy to be able to pay that forward. This chapter is a group of great mensches, and I’m very proud of them.”
At its chartering ceremony, AEPi CEO Andrew Borans and Supreme Master Jeffrey Jacobson honored and celebrated the next generation.
“In Parashat Beresheet, God asks Cain where his brother is and Cain replies, ‘Hashomer achi anochi? Am I my brother’s keeper?’ The answer is, of course, yes,” Borans said. “We are all our brothers’ keepers, and these young men are absolutely caring of each other, and caring about their futures. They are of our future leaders and it was an honor to be in Dallas to celebrate their success and welcome them wholly to the organization.”
He added, “These young men create, finance, produce and share events and programming, and it’s all part of the learning process. We are a microcosm of the world. We can’t just ‘attend the party.’ We must set, complete and follow through in life. Going from being a colony to a chapter is a bit like a bar mitzvah — from ‘now I am a man’ to ‘now we are a chapter’ — and the men of Tau Iota are indeed strong as a chapter.”
The chapter has 10 active members and rush for the spring semester is underway. Male students interested in joining should visit dallasaepi.org. Congregations and organizations wishing to work with the chapter should email firstname.lastname@example.org.