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Members of Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi organize new alumni club

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One member said he formed lifelong friendships in the fraternity and his connection to the group has helped him be successful in his profession. Another said the club improves the world through its community service projects. A third said membership in the international Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, offers opportunities to mentor others.

With 98 years of history, 155 chapters in the United States, Canada and Israel and 93,000 alumni, Alpha Epsilon Pi, the world's oldest and largest Jewish fraternity, has made its presence felt in nearly every avenue of modern American life.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, ESPN founder Chet Simmons, Weather Channel creator Alan Galumbeck, singers Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, comedians Gene Wilder, Richard Lewis and Jerry Lewis, CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer and former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Stone are among the global fraternity's many distinguished alumni.

Josh Caplan, along with three other area Alpha Epsilon Pi members are organizing a new Baltimore area AEPi alumni club.

"AEPi's mission is centered around Jewish values," said Caplan, 28, an alumnus of the University of Maryland, College Park, Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter.

"We still welcome people from other backgrounds, but the mission is really dedicated to Jewish values and to developing leadership for the Jewish community," said Caplan, an attorney who lives inCanton and works inTowson for the law firm of Peter G. Angelos.

"Another aspect of our mission and part of our reason for starting an alumni club is community service," Caplan said. "That's in line with one of our fraternity's most important values, which is Tikkun Olam, the Hebrew concept of repairing the world, doing charitable work to improve the state of the community and around the world."

Caplan, along with a handful of other local AEPi alumni, including Jack Baumel, an Owings Mills resident and retired senior policy analyst with the Social Security Administration, and Pikesville resident Michael Schwartzberg, media relations manager for Greater Baltimore Medical Center, are local organizers in the fraternity's nationwide drive to start new alumni clubs in nearly every major metropolitan area.

Founded in 1913, Alpha Epsilon Pi is today the ninth largest of all 72 national fraternities. Its members have the highest overall grade point average of any national fraternity.

The group's website states that the role of Alpha Epsilon Pi has expanded since its inception.

"Initially, the Jewish fraternity served as a brotherhood of young men who came from similar religious backgrounds and who had experienced prejudices against their religious beliefs.

"Alpha Epsilon Pi soon broadened its role to include serving as the living quarters for some of its members: the fraternity became a home away from home. …

"Alpha Epsilon Pi develops leadership for the future of the American Jewish community. Our basic purpose is to provide the opportunity for a Jewish man to be able to join a Jewish organization whose purpose is not specifically religious, but rather social and cultural in nature. Alpha Epsilon Pi is a Jewish fraternity, though non-discriminatory and open to all who are willing to espouse its purpose and values, " the website states.

With an estimated 2,000 alumni in the Baltimore-Washington area (including some who belong to an already established Washington alumni club) the local club organizers feel they have a strong pool of potential members.

In order to join the new Baltimore area club you don't necessarily have to be an alumnus of AEPi chapters in Maryland, including those at Towson University, Johns Hopkins University and both the College Park and Baltimore County campuses of the University of Maryland. It's open to all alumni, from everywhere and anywhere.

Michael Waitz, national director for centennial development at AEPi's world headquarters in Indianapolis, said the national drive to create these new clubs is tied to the fraternity's upcoming centennial celebration in 2013. It's also part of a renewed effort to keep members engaged beyond their college years.

"When you pledge, you get a blue book that says you're making a commitment for life," Waitz said. "We're reconnecting with brothers who have lost contact with AEPi in the last five, 10 -- or even 40 or 50 years."

Waitz says AEPi's Chicago alumni club, which has been up and running for quite a while, serves as an example for how the new chapters can function.

"They do things together with the undergraduate chapters in the Chicago area, and it's a great networking group for everyone and provides great mentoring opportunities," he said.

Jack Baumel envisions the new Baltimore club as having a similar approach, which will combine socializing, professional networking and community service.

"Our plan, once we get the club organized, is to look for community projects to get involved in," Baumel said. "That's a given. I'm sure there will be a lot of people with pet projects they want to get involved in, because family members have been affected and things like that."

Caplan seems to speak for many AEPi alumni when he recalls the longlasting influence the fraternity has had on his life.

"I always really felt like my experience in the fraternity is what made my college experience as successful as it was," he said. "I have some friendships I made there that have endured, and it provided me with an education about how to make things happen, how to accomplish goals — things that you don't learn in your classes. When we had our fraternity activities you really had to learn to relate to and work with all different kinds of people.

"I found out that if you really took advantage of the opportunities, you could benefit more than you ever realized," Caplan said. "And I want for other people to have a way to keep that spirit alive beyond the college experience."

Michael Schwartzberg, who, in the early 1990s, was a founder of Towson University's AEPi chapter, agreed. "I made many good friendships, including two of my closest friends today," he said

Baumel said the opportunity to renew old fraternity friendships is what led him to get involved in founding the new club.

"One of the things I realized is that when I don't see these guys for a long time, and I finally do see them, that old warmth comes back," he added. "There are a lot of guys from the fraternity in our area that I haven't seen for a long time that I really want to see."

All AEPi alumni are invited to an open house and informal organizational meeting from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday, Aug.14, at the Owings Mills home of Jack Baumel. A $3 donation is requested. For address, directions and more information, e-mail Josh Caplan, at JCaplan@lawpga.com or go to the new chapter's Facebook page at

http://www.facebook.com/groups/237053362985821.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Colleges and UniversitiesUniversity of Maryland, College ParkFacebookTowson UniversityJustice System
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