Nearly 500 students and alumni from the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) painted and spruced up the grounds of New Orleans City Park on August 5 during a hugely successful service project in conjunction with the fraternity’s 97th Anniversary Convention. B’nai B’rith International sponsored the project at the city’s premiere recreation destination.
AEPi and B’nai B’rith teamed up in 2007 to provide community service, educational, and advocacy programming to encourage fraternity brothers to stay active in the Jewish community after graduating college.
“It was great to be out at the park with these young guys, trying to make a difference in a city that defines resilience,” B’nai B’rith President Dennis W. Glick said. “Giving back: it’s our mission and our mantra at B’nai B’rith. As the afternoon ended, we could see a difference in the park, which will hopefully translate to a difference in the lives of local residents.”
"I feel truly grateful to have been given the opportunity through B'nai B'rith and AEPi to help even a small portion of the New Orleans community after the affects of Katrina five years ago," said Matthew Whitman, an AEPi brother at the University of South Florida.
Since Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the park in 2005, volunteer projects, including AEPi’s effort, are helping to bring it back to life. As a happy gathering place for residents, this project will have a lasting impact on the entire New Orleans metropolitan community.
"After the Hurricane, being from Las Vegas, we couldn't help much. But being here shows that we are still able to do something to help," said Mitchell Levinson, an AEPi brother from University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The volunteer project fit in perfectly with the goals of the fraternity.
“Tikkun Olam means repairing the world,” AEPi Executive Director Andy Borans said before the event. “As AEPi is the International Jewish Fraternity, it is our responsibility to give back to the community. We are very happy to go to New Orleans with over 500 AEPi brothers from across the world and to team up with one of our partner organizations, B'nai B'rith International. During our convention we are taking time out of our fraternal business to not only fulfill the duty of our fraternity, but of our faith as well.”
B’nai B’rith’s active history of sponsoring disaster relief programs in New Orleans began shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city—raising more than $1 million for the Gulf region. B’nai B’rith also demonstrated its support for the Gulf Coast by holding its annual policy conference in New Orleans in 2006.
The New Orleans City Park project marks the end of a five-year effort to assist in rebuilding homes, houses of worship, and other projects in states devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“This project is the culmination of a long-term commitment to helping the Gulf Coast rebuild,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “We hope the citizens of New Orleans enjoy the park’s upgrades and that it becomes a great symbol of the rebuilding efforts in the region.”
Glick and Mariaschin also received honors during the convention activities.
Glick was initiated as an honorary member of the fraternity and Mariaschin received the Gitelson Silver Medallion, an award which honors AEPi alumni who have committed to practice Jewish community service.
“I am honored to become an honorary member of a fraternity with such high ideals in brotherhood, leadership, and service,” Glick said. “I value B’nai B’rith’s relationship with AEPi and believe that our joint service projects, like the volunteer effort in New Orleans City Park, change lives for the better in the communities we serve.”
A brother in the Delta Beta chapter at the University of New Hampshire, Mariaschin’s Gitelson Silver Medallion capped his long history with the fraternity.
“I am extremely proud to receive such a prestigious award that represents something I have been passionate about throughout my professional career—service to others,” Mariaschin said. “It is fitting to have this award presented in New Orleans, a place where helping others has become paramount as the city has faced natural and man made disasters.”
B’nai B’rith also was one of the sponsors (along with Aish International and AEPi Foundation) of a pre-convention Jewish Identity Enrichment Conference called Hineni.
This conference brought together 52 students to learn more about their fraternity’s Jewish connection to ideals, values, and ethics. Facilitators included the AEPi staff and rabbis connected to Israel and campus programming.
As part of Hineni, the students also took part in a service project sponsored by B’nai B’rith and its Center for Senior Services. They went to Annunciation Inn, a senior residence sponsored by Christopher Homes, the housing unit of the Archdiocese. The participants spent the morning visiting with the residents, who talked about their experiences during and after Katrina. The program included ice breaker board games and a lively game of Bingo.
The project was a model of community service visits that the students can do for the elderly in communities near their schools. Matches are being made with B’nai B’rith senior housing facilities across the United States.
The Hineni program exemplifies how Judaism places a premium on helping those less fortunate in the community and our commitment to the elderly of our society.