AEPi brothers on 112 campuses around the world walk to remember the Holocaust
By Adam Maslia, Howard M. Lorber Director of Jewish and Philanthropy Programming
Last Monday, I found myself standing underneath the Washington Square Arch in New York City. I was joined by over 40 NYU students, most of whom were brothers of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi). We dressed in black shirts bearing signs that read “Never Forget.” Standing under that arch, something strange happened. The bustling city of New York fell silent.
So maybe it wasn’t pin-drop silent for all of the bystanders and lunch-breakers watching us gather under the arch, but for my brothers and me, it was. This silence induced a type of reflective moment within my mind that doesn’t happen very often. I thought back to nearly 100 years ago when a group of 11 young men stood under that same arch and officially founded the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. While these men undoubtedly experienced anti-semitism, at that point in time, they had no way of predicting the horror that would befall the Jewish people only a two decades later. They simply wished to establish group where Jewish men could feel pride in being Jewish on campus and develop the leadership abilities that the much younger, and smaller American Jewish community so desperately needed.
By founding AEPi with this positive purpose, the “Immortal Eleven” created a framework by which Jewish college men could make an impact on the world through their Judaism. That is exactly what my brothers and I at NYU and on 111 other campuses in the U.S., Israel, Canada, U.K., and France were doing by participating in AEPi’s annual We Walk to Remember. We Walk to Remember was founded by AEPi’s Alpha Chapter at NYU in 2007, and is the largest on-campus Holocaust remembrance event in existence. B’nai B’rith International cosponsors the program in coordination with their Unto Every Person There Is A Name Holocaust Remembrance program.
Unified in memorializing silence, we walked around NYU’s city campus and handed out leaflets to those who looked puzzled or asked, “Never forget what?” At one point we circled up outside the business school and read the stories of individuals who perished in the Holocaust. You see, this event is more than just a way to inform the public; it gives the participants time to reflect on the Holocaust in a way that would only happen if they were viewing a documentary or visiting a museum. As Jews, we are semi-frequently reminded of the Holocaust, but as I explained to our group at the end of the walk, for the people we passed on the street, that fleeting moment may have been the only time all year they ever stopped to remember what happened. This event could have even created an opportunity for a parent to explain the Holocaust to their curious child. To me, there is no event that more quintessentially sums up what in means to be a brother of AEPi.
As I head back to New York City in August to celebrate AEPi’s Centennial Convention at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, I, along with 1200 brothers will once again stand underneath that very arch. The fraternity is now a global entity and the largest membership based organization for Jewish college students in the world. Similarly, perspectives on fraternities and Greek life in general have also changed dramatically. But through all of the changes that have taken place over the past 100 years, it has been AEPi’s positive purpose that has remained constant and will continue to propel AEPi through the next 100 years.