Jewish greek organizations provide community

The spiritual and cultural groups are open to students of all faiths.

President of Alpha Epsilon Pi and senior Senior Seth Franklin and Alpha Epsilon Pi members Louis Livon-Bemel and Zack Gilbert Burke talk at the second annual Greek Shabbat dinner hosted at Chabad on Friday. Chabad welcomed students to celebrate Shabbat, a weekly Jewish holiday.

Chelsea Gortmaker

President of Alpha Epsilon Pi and senior Senior Seth Franklin and Alpha Epsilon Pi members Louis Livon-Bemel and Zack Gilbert Burke talk at the second annual Greek Shabbat dinner hosted at Chabad on Friday. Chabad welcomed students to celebrate Shabbat, a weekly Jewish holiday.

Melissa Berman

On Friday, about 60 University of Minnesota students gathered in the Chabad house for Jewish Shabbat, which included a traditional meal and prayer.

Though the Jewish student center hosts these events weekly, last week’s greek Shabbat highlighted Jewish greek organizations, which are growing in popularity on campus.

At the University, three greek organizations — Alpha Epsilon Pi, Alpha Epsilon Phi and Sigma Alpha Mu — are religiously or culturally Jewish, providing members with a strong community.

Office for Fraternity and Sorority Life Program Director Matt Levine said Jewish greek organizations can provide an “even tighter-knit” community than some other organizations.

“They are a place where people can go where people have commonalities beyond just where you went to high school [and] what you like to do in your free time,” he said. “It adds that spiritual component.”

Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter president Seth Franklin said he joined the fraternity because he wanted a “family” on campus. New members are drawn to the traditionally Jewish fraternity for similar reasons, he said.

“We offer a similar culture to what they’re used to. So if they come from a Jewish background, they’re able to continue with that background,” Franklin said.

Alpha Epsilon Pi celebrates each Jewish holiday as a house and holds its own Shabbat dinners twice per semester, he said.

Although the fraternity will admit anyone who accepts the chapter’s goals and values, Franklin said, all current members are Jewish. He said the cultural and religious ties fraternity members share makes their chapter house feel “homier.”

“It makes it feel closely knit. People relate to you and what type of background you come from,” he said. “When you find an area or a place where you have similarities with somebody, it’s a really great thing.”

Alpha Epsilon Phi chapter president Jenna Leehan said the sorority’s traditional Jewish values help shape its informal recruitment strategies.

“I think the fact that when we recruit, we recruit without any judgment, reflects those values,” she said.

In 1909, seven Jewish women at Barnard College in New York founded Alpha Epsilon Phi when other sororities wouldn’t accept them because of their Jewish faith.

Today, the sorority’s University chapter is open to women of all faiths who are willing to live by the founders’ traditional values of tolerance and diversity.

Although only four members are Jewish, all members bond over learning about Jewish faith and culture, said Leehan, who isn’t Jewish.

“Personally, it’s been a huge eye-opener to culturally adapt to certain things. Before I went here, I couldn’t have told you a thing about Judaism,” she said. “Now I know so much more just from being involved.”

Sigma Alpha Mu began as a fraternity for only Jewish men but now accepts members of all faiths.

Tony Mrozek, president of the fraternity’s University chapter, said about half of members are Jewish. Group members practice religion on their own terms, he said.

In past holiday seasons, the culturally Jewish fraternity has had both Menorahs and Christmas trees in its chapter house. Mrozek said there isn’t pressure to practice a religion, but parts of the Jewish faith have influenced all members.

“Being culturally Jewish, we’re founded on Jewish principles and values, which really talk about bettering yourself, becoming the best you can be and continuing your education,” he said.

For aerospace engineering freshman Jonathan Werner, the most important part of being in Alpha Epsilon Pi is the bond with his fellow members.

“The best part is that you all have something in common,” he said. “You can share experiences and know someone can relate to your background.”