America’s first Jewish fraternity has made its return to Miami University.
Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT), which has more than 130,000 members and 80 chapters nationwide, left Miami in 1990 after 56 years on campus, but last week Executive Director Dave Saks spent four days re-colonizing the Alpha Phi chapter.
By Thursday, 17 bids had been extended, with 11 acceptances.
“The Jewish population should have a choice, always,” Saks said. “Competition makes everyone better. After talking to alumni, we felt coming back was a historic return, a win for the campus and the organization. This is one of the most prestigious campuses in our mind.”
Saks said he was most proud of how quickly the first pledge class, which will be known as the “Founding Fathers,” gelled together.
“On Thursday evening, 11 men had accepted bids,” Saks said. “On Friday the men participated as a group in a blood drive and went to both hockey games and had a recruitment effort watching the NFC Championship game Sunday.”
Saks said that a colony of ZBT has 15 members, and he hopes to have 30 members by the semester’s end.
One of the founding fathers is first-year Graham Kenworthy, who was initially interested in ZBT when his friend down the corridor in Dodds Hall, whose father is a ZBT alumnus, suggested they bring back the Miami chapter.
Kenworthy’s friend dropped the plans, but Kenworthy decided to stick with the effort and is now a leading member in the fraternity.
“I didn’t want to feel like one of the numbers, as money (to other fraternities),” Kenworthy said. “When (Saks) brought the idea of being a founding father, I took the opportunity.”
ZBT will compete with the established Jewish fraternity on campus, Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), for new members. However, AEPi President Josh Oberndorf insisted that the presence of two Jewish fraternities will not cause a rivalry on campus.
“I welcome ZBT to Miami, it’s nice to have a larger Jewish presence at Miami,” he said. “I would hope they would love to collaborate, I wish ZBT the best and look forward to working with them for the future.”
Despite their history as a Jewish fraternity, Saks said that ZBT extends bids to “all men of good character,” and Kenworthy added that the majority of his inaugural pledge class is non-Jewish.
“We don’t want to be grouped into a specific group,” Kenworthy said. “I just want to be known as a couple of cool guys who can party, are gentlemen and get their stuff done.”
Despite allowing non-Jews as members, Saks did add that he suggests all ZBT chapters work with local Hillel centers at least once a semester to remember the heritage of the fraternity.
Saks said that it is likely based on current negotiations that ZBT will have a house by the fall semester.