By Matthew Prater
Alpha Epsilon Pi brought 35 brothers from across North America together in Los Angeles from April 1 to 3 for the fraternity’s first Combat Hate Conference. David Marias, AEPi’s civic engagement coordinator, and others from the national headquarters in Indianapolis spent more than 1½ years planning the conference.
The conference was created to honor Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, a Cornell AEPi and freedom rider who was killed in 1964.
“We wanted to have a special conference in order to examine past instances of hate on and off campus and find ways that we can help bridge communities and work with other diverse groups of students to make our campus communities better for all students,” Marias said.
Matthew Friedrich, Josh Shapiro and I attended the conference as representatives of AEPi at Kennesaw State University. Hillel at UCLA welcomed us for Shabbat services and dinner Friday night, April 1, then the conference began in earnest at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 2.
The full day of presentations began with the Black-Jew Dialogues’ use of comedy to examine diversity, the hardships of racism and prejudice, and how to combat them. The use of comedy made it easier for people to open up and ask questions.
White People 4 Black Lives then discussed racism and how AEPi brothers can support the Black Lives Matter movement on and off campus.
AEPi alum Tyler Gregory, the director of programs and development at A Wider Bridge, spoke about the work his group does advocating the rights of the LGBT community in Israel, as well as about LGBT rights throughout the Middle East.
Although many of its neighbors discriminate against LGBT people, Israel as a society is accepting of the community. Tel Aviv hosts the largest Pride parade in the world, and many seek refuge in that city and other parts of Israel for work and acceptance.
The final two speakers before dinner were Tim Zaal and Rabbi Aron Hier.
Zaal, a former skinhead, spoke on behalf of Hate to Hope, an organization that does exactly what its name says. He talked about acceptance of others in telling his story of reconciliation with someone he hurt more than four decades ago. His journey showed us how to overcome prejudices and fight against discrimination.
Rabbi Hier, the director of campus outreach for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, facilitated a conversation on First Amendment rights and how those rights can be used on campus to fight hate speech.
AEPi’s supreme master, Elan Carr, gave an inspiring speech at dinner about the pride and power we have as Jewish leaders. He emphasized that we are the new generation of Jewish leaders and can make a difference in the United States and Israel.
The final day of the conference, we went to the Museum of Tolerance. We split into two groups and walked through the interactive exhibits, including scenes from the ghettos and concentration camps of World War II. The stories we heard and the presentations of the facts were jaw-dropping.
I have been to Holocaust museums in Israel, Atlanta, Washington and elsewhere, but I think the Los Angeles museum will stick with me the most.
Overall, the conference was an honor to attend. I brought back valuable knowledge and information to share with my brothers regarding tolerance and how we can be better community members by addressing issues I didn’t even realize we faced today.
Matthew Prater, son of Ilene and Michael Prater of Norcross, is a founding member and current president of the AEPi colony at Kennesaw State.