Now he’s a CPA living in New York City, but Josh Freeman, who grew up in Wyckoff, spent four happy years at the Jewish fraternity AEPi when he was a student at Penn State; he graduated in 2018. His older brother, Alex, had been a co-founder of that chapter.
Other than a frat house that was, in Mr. Freeman’s words, “disgusting,” he has only positive memories of his experience. “I believed it was a place where Jewish young adults could come together, creating bonds and a legacy that would last a long time,” he said.
He also believed that the fraternity was apolitical. “The only thing I know of that was political was a vote condemning the Iran nuclear deal,” he recalled.
AEPi was founded in 1913 and has a presence at around 180 campuses internationally. Some 9,000 to 10,000 undergraduates, most of them Jewish, participate in AEPi every year, and it has more than 100,000 alumni.
Because his years there were so happy, and because he understood the group to be apolitical, Mr. Freeman was especially shocked to learn from a friend’s Twitter post last week that Andrew Borans, the CEO of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Foundation and the fraternity’s former executive director, also is also on the advisory council of Turning Point USA, a right-wing organization for college students.
That group is headed by pro-Trump pundit Charlie Kirk, who, JTA reported, boasted in a now-deleted tweet, sent days before the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, that Turning Point was sending “80+ buses full of patriots to DC to fight for this president.” Turning Point later told the New York Times that it sent seven buses to Washington, D.C. on the day Congress was stormed, a riot that resulted in five deaths and the second impeachment of President Donald J. Trump, who is accused of having stoked it.
Last Tuesday, Mr. Freeman replied to an AEPi fundraising letter in an unusual way: He sent the group an email objecting to Mr. Borans’ involvement with it, calling on Mr. Borans to disassociate with Turning Point immediately or else face removal from AEPi. “Within five minutes, Borans directly responded,” said Mr. Freeman. In an email that was, at best, flippant, Mr. Borans wrote, “I call on you to leave every organization I’m not happy with.”
Mr. Freeman agreed that Mr. Borans has a constitutional right to join whatever groups he chooses. “But I have the same right to do what I’m doing,” he said.
In his letter, Mr. Freeman made clear his deep feelings about the issue. “AEPi is a family affair for me. I spent four years of my life at the Pennsylvania State University as a brother of AEPi. My older brother was a founding member of the chapter and worked personally with Borans to secure the charter. For both of us, these four years were formative, deepening our appreciation for Judaism and showing us how to carry that into our professional lives after graduation. As the grandsons of a Holocaust survivor, this commitment to Jewish community was our birthright.”
As to whether Mr. Borans, can, in fact, be made to leave AEPi, Mr. Freeman said, “I have to imagine they could make him.” Since Mr. Borans’ removal would entail a loss of income, Mr. Freeman said the organization would “need to debate how they will lose more money” were he to be retained. A petition seeking Mr. Borans’ removal already had garnered more than 100100 signatures.
The fraternity, it seems, is not inclined to take any action. According to a JTA report, AEPi spokesperson Jonathan Pierce continues to maintain that AEPi is apolitical. The fraternity, he said, doesn’t “ask people their politics if they want to give us money to help us promote our mission. Our concerns are Jewish leadership, fighting anti-Semitism, and supporting Israel. We don’t have a political bent on any side of the aisle.”
And yet, Mr. Freeman noted, the Washington rioters clearly included many anti-Semites. As he told JTA, “I’m really disappointed that the leader of AEPi could be so closely associated with an organization that’s not necessarily overtly racist or overtly anti-Semitic, but definitely has tended to associate themselves with those kinds of people. I was outraged after watching the events of last week. I was really disappointed.”
Mr. Freeman said he is pleased with the reception his letter has received, and he is not surprised by the pushback. “As with any organization, there are always people with different opinions from different parts of the political spectrum,” he said. But the people he expected to agree with him, do; and those he expected to disagree, do as well. He has received support from AEPi chapters in other schools as well as from various Jewish groups, he continued, adding, “I ignore the backlash.”
“We are very proud of Josh and his commitment to continuing to uphold the values that were instilled in us growing up,” Josh’s brother Jason said. “Based on these values and not politics, Andy and AEPi have a very easy decision to make: Andy either cuts ties with Turning Point USA or AEPi should cut ties with Andy Borans.
“We all hope they make the right decision.”