Amid freezing temperatures, 35 Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity brothers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Texas descended upon an Oklahoma community still in disrepair from last spring’s tornados, performing one week’s work basically in one day.
Under the sponsorship of B’nai B’rith International’s disaster relief program, the students dismantled a barn under the direction of Adam Maslia, of Indianapolis, director of Jewish and Philanthropy Programming, and UT senior Aaron Liener, of Dallas. The project was identified for B’nai B’rith by a relief organization called Field of TEAMS, which was formed to assist farmers whose property was battered by Mother Nature.
“This is a perfect example of B’nai B’rith’s relationship with AEPi and the performance of tikkun olam,” said Chuck Kaufman, B’nai B’rith senior international vice president, who helped coordinate and promote the activity from Austin. “The group brandished its banner and ours proudly, and built bonds with one another. The brothers epitomized the definition of fraternity.”
The B’nai B’rith Flood, Tornado and Hurricane Disaster Relief Fund provided for the expenses of the program, thanks to the generosity of donors. Currently, the fund is open for victims of the recent Colorado floods.
Members of the community told the volunteers how they rode out the tornados from storm cellars and often felt they were hanging on for dear life. The massive noise and power of the tornados were beyond words, they said.
Field of TEAMS coordinator Levi Clifton said the AEPi/B’nai B’rith group was one of four teams working in the area during the weekend of Oct. 18-20. Other groups were charged with picking up debris and clearing sites, but she reserved the barn project for the AEPi brothers because they were "young, energetic, numerous and passionate" about tackling the enormous task at hand.
Liener said the experience provided numerous lessons for him and his fraternity brothers. “Volunteering and doing tikkun olam-style events gave us an amazing feeling,” he said. “To see the emotions and gratification on people’s faces was simply priceless. It’s far more meaningful than simply writing a check," though, he acknowledged the numerous donations that allowed AEPi to perform the mitzvah.
The project also allowed the large group to foster brotherhood; and it inspired neighbors to chip in with assistance and much-appreciated food.
“This program really showed what it means to be a brother in this fraternity,” Liener added. “I can’t begin to express the pride we felt after doing what we set out to do to pose with our banner and B’nai B’rith International logo, a menorah. It expresses what we’re all about.”
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