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Friday, December 19, 2014

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Fraternity celebrates 100 years

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From right, David Burden and Noam Berlin, representatives of AEPi’s Toronto Alumni Club and co-chairs of next year’s anniversary convention in Toronto, address assembled alumni. [Josh Rosen photo]

Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) held its centennial celebrations over the Aug. 9 weekend in New York City, commemorating the impact the fraternity has had on Jews around the world over the past 100 years.

“I wouldn’t be who I am without AEPi,” said David Burden, 29, who joined the fraternity when he was at York University in 2002. Since then, he’s remained active in the organization and is currently regional governor for Eastern Canada.

“I can’t imagine that I would be as successful as I am now without the experience to prepare me for the outside world.”

Burden was one of many who flocked to New York for the event, which included a gala banquet hosted by CNN anchor and AEPi alumni Wolf Blitzer, a Shabbat dinner beside an aircraft carrier, a tribute and memorial dinner for veterans, and training sessions. In total, more than 1,400 people celebrated the milestone.

The opening session took place at New York University, where the first AEPi chapter was founded 100 years ago, after Jewish students were denied entry into other fraternities.

Since its inception, the fraternity has connected thousands of people around the world, including famous alumni such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, musicians Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and actor Gene Wilder.

“When they [the founders] started in 1913, they never could have dreamed it would become this big,” said Jacob Klugsberg, a third-year health sciences student and president of AEPi at McMaster University.

Both men agreed the highlight of the weekend was the gala, which took place at the Waldorf Astoria New York. Between the speeches, setting and the number of people who announced major financial contributions to the fraternity, the evening was very exciting, Burden said.

Michael Waitz, director of centennial development for the fraternity, said it was important to recognize the milestone, because the group’s survival wasn’t always certain.

“About 40 years ago, we had to decide if it should be a fraternity of Jews or a Jewish fraternity,” he said, explaining that by choosing the latter, AEPi’s leaders ensured that Jewish programming was always at the forefront.

It also meant that people who weren’t Jewish could only join if they demonstrated “Jewish values,” Klugsberg said.

However, Burden pointed out that the fraternity is almost entirely made up of Jews, which was a major factor in his original decision to join.

“When everyone is Jewish, it creates an extra bond,” he said.

He said his participation in AEPi has helped him significantly in his professional life. The FedEx account executive said he got his first post-university job because of his fraternity experience.

“It’s really a fast track to experience,” he said.

And even his personal life was changed because of AEPi – he met his wife at a fraternity event.

Klugsberg said many of the speakers at the weekend’s event conveyed similar messages.

“A lot of the leadership skills they’ve gotten and how to work with people all came from their involvement with the fraternity,” he said.

AEPi is already the largest fraternity in Canada, but Burden added that it’s expanding this year, with new chapters opening in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Halifax, and Montreal.

People at universities in those cities should consider joining to get the many benefits of being a member, Burden said.

“The cool thing about AEPi is people can get out of it whatever they want,” he said. “If they want to be a better leader, they can certainly run in the elections for the executive board. If they’re looking for time-management skills, they could do one of the harder positions with solving problems and getting stuff done.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to start a chapter.”

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