Jewish fraternity celebrates 60 years at Rutgers

Jewish fraternity celebrates 60 years at Rutgers

Members of Rho Epsilon, the Rutgers affiliate of Alpha Epsilon Pi, in 1957, together with their housemother.
Members of Rho Epsilon, the Rutgers affiliate of Alpha Epsilon Pi, in 1957, together with their housemother.

Sixty years after a chapter of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi was established at Rutgers University, members and alumni came from as far away as Texas and Utah to celebrate decades of brotherhood and community service.

At the celebration, held Nov. 12 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Somerset, alumni reminisced about the early days and chatted with current members. 

Richard Feller of Livingston, a founding member of the Rutgers affiliate — Rho Upsilon — and former international AEPi president, was honored for being the longest-serving supreme master (holding a seat on the international governing board) in the history of the international fraternity’s governing board. 

Joel Braverman (class of ’62), a Newark native and retired CPA now living in Long Branch, said members learned “how to be a mensches, socialize with our peers, and deal with each other on a day-to-day living basis.”

Hyman Kleinman of West Orange, who graduated in 1959, recalled the days when Rho Epsilon was just a “colony” — the first step to becoming a full-fledged affiliate — and rented the second floor of a house while another fraternity was housed on the first.

He said that among his fondest memories was the opportunity to meet Jewish classmates with different levels of observance, adding, “They were a wonderful group of guys. They were just so warm and friendly and accepting.” Kleinman said he remains friendly with some of his AEPi brothers to this day.

Robert Ilardi, who graduated in 1957 with a degree in psychology, grew up in Newark and Hillside but came to the celebration from the Memphis suburb of Bartlett, where he now lives. After earning a doctorate in psychology, he had a long career at the University of Tennessee Medical School.

Ilardi had the distinction of being a non-Jewish member of AEPi, but, he said, “all my friends were Jewish growing up and I went to school with a lot of Jewish kids. I hung around with a lot of the guys from the frat, and it just suited me.” 

Entertainment at the reunion was provided by the Rutgers University Glee Club and included their rendition of the “AEPi Fight Song” while the singers wore baseball caps in the fraternity’s colors of blue and gold.

Program chair and MC Bruce Kesselman, formerly of Old Bridge and now living in Las Vegas, is a 1973 graduate who authored the book 46 Union Street, The Untold Story of Rho Upsilon, which raised money for the chapter’s scholarship fund. The book title refers to the address of the fraternity’s former house on the New Brunswick campus.

Kesselman recalled that the chapter had few jocks but many good students and sought to “recruit members of character who also liked to have fun.”

The chapter operated for 55 years at Rutgers and had its own fraternity house before the national fraternity and the university rescinded its charter in 2010, after a suspected hazing incident and other violations of its constitution and mission. Two years ago it reformed as a colony, temporarily using Rutgers Chabad as its headquarters, and now has a house on Sicard Street. The Chabad’s Rabbi Baruch Goodman serves as the chapter adviser.

The 103-year-old AEPi has 190 chapters and colonies throughout the Unites States and eight other countries. Both the national and Rutgers chapters provide ongoing support to national Jewish causes and are the largest Jewish financial contributors to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Rutgers chapter provides service to the university, support of philanthropic causes, and good alumni relations.

Brothers are “trained to serve the Jewish community,” Scott Cohen, another supreme master from the international board, told the gathering. “We are a Jewish community. We walk it and talk it.” 

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