Jewish organizations like Chabad, Hillel, as well as the Jewish fraternity and sorority AEPi and AEPhi, have always played an invaluable role in maintaining Jewish life on college campuses. Even then, there are many Jewish students who go through their entire college career without ever hearing about their campus’s Jewish student organizations. Those who do, though, often become more involved in the Jewish and Zionist communities. Jewish life at UC Irvine, for example, has improved tremendously with the help of the OC Jewish community, despite the intimidation and hostility of the campus’ Muslim Student Union. Jewish life at CSU Fullerton (“CSUF”) is undergoing a similar renaissance, though it’s just now in its emerging stages.
“There has been virtually no Jewish presence at CSUF prior to the formation of the AEPi colony almost 2 years ago,” says chapter advisor for Fullerton AEPi, Jason Feld. “CSUF was left on its own to develop a Jewish identity and AEPi quickly filled that role. Through the efforts of the AEPi brothers – which started with seven and is now almost 25 men – a new Jewish community emerged at CSUF.” This includes the formation of a Hillel group at CSUF, now led by an AEPi brother, Eric Van Raalte.
Fullerton AEPi has essentially had to rebuild CSUF’s Jewish life from scratch. The last time CSUF saw any presence of an active Jewish life was back in 2006, when it was dwindling away. Over the following year, the Hillel group had to close, and there has not been any type of a Jewish presence at CSUF since 2007 until AEPi was re-colonized in the fall of 2008. AEPi has single-handedly rebuilt all Jewish life at CSUF, and the Hillel group on campus is thriving as a result. “[The Hillel at CSUF]… is currently maintained solely by students as a purely student organization,” says co-chapter advisor, Michael Finger. “It is recognized and affiliated with OC Hillel.”
But how did such a small organization of only seven students suddenly kickstart Jewish life at CSUF? The answer: an overwhelming amount of work, dedication to building a Jewish community at CSUF, and support by local alumni and volunteers. Since its revival in 2008, Fullerton AEPi has been completely focused on searching for every Jewish student at CSUF or potentially coming to CSUF.
“Finding Jewish students on campus is a difficult task,” remarks Feld. “The AEPi brotherhood has been successful in expanding its search opportunities by utilizing social networking sites like Facebook, tabling on campus for Birthright Israel, having a booth at the OC Israel Expo, targeting the local synagogues and Jewish youth groups, talking to parents, working with the Bureau of Jewish Education[…] These efforts have generated a viable list of Jewish students at CSUF for the benefit of AEPi, Hillel, and the overall Jewish community at CSUF.”
Aside from ballooning its seven-man crew to almost 25, the Fullerton AEPi has been busy re-creating a sustainable Jewish atmosphere on campus. The organization has already hosted a Passover sedar and Channukah Party for members and parents, raised over $8,000 for the Jewish Federation of Orange County in assisting with phone-a-thons, volunteered several hours to various Jewish causes and charitable organizations, and consistently attended Hillel’s events in order to keep it strong in operation.
“[The establishment of an AEPi here] has led to a lot of students to choose to attend Fullerton just for AEPi,” observes Chad Sachs, founding president and one of the seven original founders of the Fullerton AEPi. “I have personally seen many positive outcomes from a lot of our brothers, outcomes that without the AEPi here would not have happened.”
As with all college campuses, there is always the enduring presence of some anti-Israel force on campus. CSUF is no different; Fullerton AEPi, in reviving Jewish life at CSUF, has also taken upon itself the duty of Israeli activism and moved to the front lines in the academic battle for Israel’s soul. AEPi brothers also fought against anti-Holocaust speakers on campus.
While Fullerton AEPi has accomplished a tremendous feat all on its own, the brothers still have a lot of work ahead of them. Some of their current goals include achieving a growth in membership; official recognition by CSUF and invitation to join its Inter-Fraternity Council; obtaining permanent chapter housing; an increase in Jewish programming on campus and in the community; and increased relations with other AEPi and AEPhi chapters in the OC community, as well as other Greek organizations at CSUF.
“With a strong AEPi chapter and now a thriving Hillel group, the Jewish community at CSUF is starting to take off in a major way, including the possibility of creating a Jewish sorority on campus, establishing an Israeli activist group (AIPAC or Titans for Israel), and so on. The list of possibilities is endless,” says Feld.
Fullerton AEPi is a stellar example for disheartened Jews everywhere. Facing a complete shutdown of Jewish life on campus, the outstanding men of what is now the Chi Phi Colony of AEPi at Fullerton have, in under 2 years, turned what seemed to be a hopeless and dejected rubble into a fertile and promising garden of Jewish life at CSUF. In an age where Jewish unity is becoming evermore necessary and urgent, especially on college campuses, Fullerton AEPi men have shown us that it is possible to establish a thriving Jewish identity on a campus once dormant and a community in dire need of a strong Jewish presence.