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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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AEPi brothers from Mizzou perform wonderful Mitzvah in support of Jewish family in Branson


Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba b’alma di-v’rachirutei, v’yamlich malchutei b’chayeichon uvyomeichon uvchayei d’chol beit yisrael, ba’agala uvizman kariv, v’im’ru: “amen.”

The global Jewish community has certainly heard these words of the kaddish too much lately. It is said that sitting shiva, the Jewish tradition of mourning with family and community members, is a way of saying, “I am with you.” In the aftermath of the Hamas terror attacks on Oct. 7, the need to be with each other has never been greater for the Jewish community.

“My father reached out to me shortly after the (Oct. 7) attacks and told me that a family friend knew of someone – Ariel – who lost his son at the music festival in Israel. He, and his other son, live in Branson, Mo. and our friend said that he didn’t have enough people to form a minyan to say prayers for his son,” said Jay Cohen, chapter president of AEPi (Alpha Epsilon Pi) at the University of Missouri. “I thought it would be a simple and doable task to get some guys together from the house to go down there to help him say prayers for his son.”

Oct. 7 in Columbia, Mo. dawned like many fall semester Saturday mornings. “It was our Dad’s weekend and the game against LSU (Louisiana State University) was at 11 (a.m.) so we started our tailgate at like 8. We kept hearing stuff about what had happened or was still happening in Israel but there was a lot going on and it took the majority of the day for us to hear and understand,” said Cohen. “It took a lot longer for me to comprehend it.”

By Monday, the university had begun to rally in support of Israel. “Chabad had a vigil that night (Monday, Oct. 9) and I think the whole house went, even our non-Jewish brothers wanted to be there to show support,” said Mizzou AEPi’s vice-president, Brian Schenberg.

Two days later, Ariel received word that his son had been killed at the music festival in Israel and 12 brothers from Mizzou’s AEPi made plans for an unhappy visit with an unknown family, connected only by a shared faith and tradition.

“I was born in Israel and still have a lot of family there. It was difficult for me as we got in the car and began the 3½ -hour drive to Branson. My mind was kind of blank, still trying to understand it,” said Cohen.

The drive was a little more somber than the average road trip. “We tried to keep spirits high in the cars. We wanted to come in with a good attitude. We studied and watched football in the car,” said Cohen. “I told everyone to make it a time. We were going to Branson for a sad reason, but we were also with our brothers.

“I had reached out to him (Ariel) and introduced myself and told him that AEPi was coming with a minyan,” continued Cohen. “It was a good thing we came. When we got to his house, he had some neighbors and rabbis from New York and St. Louis, but they were still short of the minyan. We were able to fill that role.”

Added Schenberg: “We were standing in his family room and saying prayers and there was a moment that I kind of stepped back and recognized the situation, acknowledging it in my heart. Little things like this can make someone’s time easier. It meant a lot to him (Ariel) to have us there. It meant a lot to all of us. We weren’t there with our temple or synagogue. We were there with our brothers.

“This was a reflection of AEPi’s values…who we are and who we want to be.”

Cohen said they all said kaddish together and then sat down to eat.

“(Ariel) told us that everyone kept bringing him food and he wanted us to eat it,” recalled Cohen. “He was going through an awful time, but he was so happy to see us and to have us eat at his table.”

A week after returning from Branson, AEPi at Mizzou hosted the local Chabad rabbi at their house and University President Dr. Mun Choi. “We were very appreciative that Dr. Choi came by. The university paid to have security at our house during the ‘Day of Jihad.’ He’s been very reassuring and has even called some of our parents to reassure them about our safety,” said Cohen.

AEPi has a history of helping others. Since 1969, the chapter has put on its Rock-A-Thon philanthropy event, one of the largest Greek fundraisers in the nation. Over the last 52 years, the chapter has raised more than $1 million for the American Cancer Society. In April 2023, the chapter raised $190,000 to fight cancer and as of Nov. 11, the chapter launched its Rock-A-Thon 2025 events (for more information and to support the chapter’s efforts, click here).

This piece was reprinted with permission from Alpha Epsilon Pi.

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