Community is the thread that runs through the core of Jewish life. Community also is a central theme of Greek life organizations on college campuses across the country.
For three young men — Jason Gelsey, Zack Kirshner and Daniel Wolfe — these two tightly knit communities intersect in a very special way: All are presidents of their respective Interfraternity Councils (IFC), one of the governing bodies of college Greek organizations, and all are Jewish.
The role of an IFC president is to serve as the middleman between Greek life and administration members, oversee Greek life chapters, manage communication and recruitment, and act as a sounding board for those with questions about what it means to be involved in Greek life.
Central Michigan University senior Jason Gelsey of West Bloomfield has been involved in Greek life for four years. In high school, he was involved in BBYO and cites his BBYO experience as one of the main reasons he initially decided to join Greek life as a brother in Sigma Tau Gamma.
“I loved the brotherhood of BBYO,” Gelsey said. “My friends from BBYO are still some of my best friends now, four years later. I wanted to experience that same kind of brotherhood in college. My dad had been involved in Greek life back in the day, so I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.”
While CMU has a relatively small Jewish community of 200 students, Gelsey finds ways to embrace Judaism by attending events at the school’s Hillel.
After being involved two years with Greek life, he decided to join the IFC and, at the beginning of this year, became its president.
“I wanted to make a huge difference on my campus,” he said. “I wanted to be involved in creating memories for people.”
Grand Valley State University senior Zack Kirshner of Farmington Hills participated in BBYO alongside Gelsey. He also feels that experience pushed him to join Greek life.
“I don’t think I would be where I am now without BBYO,” Kirshner said. “The ability to be a part of something bigger than yourself is such a good experience, and I wanted to have something like that in college.”
Kirshner is a brother in Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), a Jewish fraternity. GVSU has 350 Jewish students.
“Being part of AEPi is probably one of the most meaningful things in my life,” he said. “I’m able to combine two things that mean a lot to me.”
Kirshner says being part of a Jewish fraternity is special. The AEPi recruitment process seeks men who embody the same values and beliefs as the brothers do. He says this results in being able to surround yourself with quality individuals and create meaningful relationships.
Michigan State University junior Daniel Wolfe of Buffalo Grove, Illinois, is a brother in his school’s chapter of AEPi as well. Wolfe said he wanted to make the most out of his college experience and was convinced to rush by a roommate. When he discovered AEPi, he said he felt a connection with the other brothers.
“If I hadn’t found AEPi and it wasn’t the Jewish fraternity, I don’t think I would have joined a house,” Wolfe said. “I cannot say how amazing this experience has been for me.”
As an active member of MSU’s Jewish community of 3,500 Jewish students, Wolfe attends Shabbat dinners and other events at the school’s Hillel, which he says has been awesome in helping him build friendships with others who share his Jewish values.
Wolfe also serves on the executive board of the MSU Jewish Business Association sponsored by Hillel.
During his sophomore year, Wolfe served as his chapter president and left that position craving even more involvement in the Greek life community. For him, the next logical step was to apply for a position at IFC.
All three men agree that being Jewish and being involved in IFC is a special experience.
“I think it speaks volumes to the values of Jewish leadership and the values we are all brought up with in the Jewish community,” Wolfe said.
While Kirshner and Gelsey grew up together, they applied for their respective IFC presidencies independently.
“I was talking to Zack on the phone one day and told him I’m IFC president and he said, ‘Me, too!’” Gelsey said. “It’s awesome there are so many Jewish people involved in IFC.”
All three men said they hope to continue making a difference in both their Jewish and Greek life communities through their roles as IFC presidents.