For many college guys, joining a Jewish fraternity is rite of passage as holy as their Bar Mitzvah.
But at Temple University’s now-defunct Alpha Epsilon Phi fraternity, the fun events organized by the group turned into to a worrisome haven for illicit activity last year.
As previously reported, in May 2018 former Temple AEPi president Ari Goldstein was taken into custody under attempted rape, indecent assault, simple assault, unlawful restraint and false imprisonment charges.
Two women separately alleged Goldstein tried forcing them to perform oral sex on him, locking the door and using physical force, according to a Temple News report. Goldstein’s lawyer has maintained that his client did not commit a crime.
Temple officials shut down the chapter in November 2018, citing drug and alcohol violations.
Peter McGinnis, president of Temple’s Interfraternity Council, said in the wake of the accusations, the IFC moved to prevent sexual assault at other fraternities.
McGinnis explained, “A sexual assault prevention work group was developed shortly thereafter to plan initiatives focused on awareness, advocacy and education.”
In addition, he said, “The IFC continues to work with Temple’s chapter of It’s on Us,” referencing the social movement created by the Obama administration to prevent sexual assault on college campuses.
According to It’s on Us, one in five college women are sexually assaulted during their time at a university. The figure was verified by a 2015 Association of American Universities survey of 150,000 students at 27 schools.
AEPi international spokesperson Jonathan Pierce expressed regret at the accusations against Goldstein.
“To date, there have been no official findings, but the allegations that were made were obviously disgusting and not consistent with our values or certainly our regulations,” he said. “We’re working with our chapters all over the world to make sure that things like that don’t happen.”
When asked if the national organization had adopted a new code or taken any concrete action in response to the events at Temple, Pierce gave a clear response.
“Honestly, no. I mean, we’re working to educate our brothers every day,” he said, noting that AEPi held its annual convention Aug. 7-11. “That’s always been against our policies, probably since our founding,” he said of sexual assault. “We need to make sure that our undergraduate brothers understand what proper behavior is … but that’s something that we’ve been doing for years and years and years.”
Nevertheless, other AEPi chapters have persevered and prospered amid Temple’s turmoil.
Pierce, who pledged AEPi while at Vanderbilt University from 1982 to 1986, mentioned there are around 186 chapters across the U.S., Canada, Australia, Israel and the United Kingdom.
Two of those chapters are located in our region, with one at Drexel University and another at the University of Pennsylvania.
Jake Riesenbach of Lower Merion graduated from Drexel University in June. Last year, he served as vice president of the school’s AEPi chapter.
“I joined AEPi in the fall of 2015 when I had just gotten to Drexel,” Riesenbach explained, noting that before he got to school, he was not convinced he wanted to join Greek life.
After arriving on campus, though, “I had a rough transition due to my anxieties and the major change that was happening,” he said. “Someone mentioned joining a fraternity. Originally, I was like, ‘No, I probably won’t do that.’ But I pushed myself to go to the events.”
It was a good decision, he said.
“When I went to the first event, I felt right at home and noticed that everyone was so cool, nice and respectful. Nice Jewish boys, if I may say.”
He said he found a community with his Jewish brothers.
“Being in a Jewish fraternity is nice because no matter what, you have one thing in common: Judaism. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to be practicing or go to every event, but everyone at least respects the values and ideals.”
He added, “Even the non-Jewish brothers willingly and eagerly want to participate in different events we have, such as Shabbat dinners and rabbi chats.”
“Being in AEPi definitely changed my life,” Riesenbach said. “It really brought me out of my shell and shot my confidence through the roof. It introduced me to people who I will be friends with for life, people who will be my groomsmen at my wedding.”
In short, the fraternity defined his college experience.
“With all of my positions and experiences at Drexel, they all somewhat tie back to AEPi. I will be forever indebted to this organization.”