With increasing antisemitism around the world – and especially on college campuses – showing Jewish pride or support of Israel can be daunting. Recently, Brother Yishai Dishy (Toronto Metropolitan, 2023) was invited to speak on a Canadian streaming radio show, The Agenda with Steve Paikin, about the rise in antisemitism and anti-Israel on college campuses and the need to exhibit pride in one’s Jewish heritage and beliefs.
Brother Dishy had a very observant upbringing. He attended Yeshivat Or Chaim where he had a dual curriculum with two hours of Gemara a day and had Sunday school studying Gemara. “I loved the community aspect, being together with my friends, it was like I had my own little AEPi chapter in high school.” After high school he went to Israel to attend Yeshiva for two years and studied Jewish philosophy and Gemara.
From a young age, Brother Dishy had a strong connection to Israel. His family visited several times and he learned much about Zionism in school. His grandfather, born in Beirut, lied about his age, joined the IDF and fought in the War of Independence. “He was a huge influence on me. He was a huge Zionist. He wasn’t a religious man but to his core he was a Zionist. He loved and fought for the land of Israel, that was very inspirational to me to see this man who had this immense love and passion for the Jewish people and the land of Israel.” His grandmother was born in Cairo, Egypt and was forced to flee to Israel as a young girl when Nasser Arafat kicked out all the Jews from Egypt. “She was sent to Israel and she lived in a refugee camp for two years. Israel, for her, was a safe haven. The two of them met in Israel and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Israel…to give a homeland to my grandparents when they had nowhere to go.”
Brother Dishy joined AEPi in the winter of 2021 while abroad for the semester. “I knew something in me was shifting. I didn’t want to come back home to the same group of guys that I had from high school. I wanted to expand my friend group. AEPi reached out and I really liked the guys. They were all really friendly and welcoming.” He participated in his new member process online. When he returned as a Brother and went to a backyard event, the other Brothers gave him an AEPi sweater right away. “It was very wholesome. Ever since then I just wanted to be part of the fraternity and make it grow.”
Starting first as the Exchequer, being on Eboard gave Brother Dishy a great opportunity to experience how AEPi runs. He learned how to operate finances which transitioned well into becoming Master because he knew the economics of his chapter. “I was able to then have a better bird’s eye view, looking at our events to look at the new member process, rush, Brotherhood events, road trips and see what we can afford. He’s had an amazing experience so far. He gives a lot of credit to his Eboard for the chapter doubling its membership numbers this year. “It’s thanks to my lieutenant master, it’s thanks to my new member educator, it’s thanks to my rush chair, and it’s the Eboard as a whole, reaching out to students, planning these amazing events and building those Brotherhood connections. That’s why we’re where we are. Very little credit goes to me.”
AEPi taught Brother Dishy how to keep a level head. “There are times in AEPi that someone might get upset. Some members can get very heated, they can lose sight of the bigger picture. AEPi taught me to gather all the facts when you’re in a new situation and educate yourself from different perspectives.” He learned to make a decision from a different perspective and to never have tunnel vision. “I learned to always be cool, calm and collected and understand that our strength is the diversity of our Brothers.” When a crisis occurs he believes that there is more time than people think to address it. He values using that time to do fact-finding, hear from everyone’s side, relax, take a deep breath, then make a decision. “I think Brothers are receptive to that.”
One of Brother Dishy’s favorite AEPi memories has been the chapter’s last road trip. “We got a cottage up in ski country. We just spent the weekend bonding. We did our initiation there and we had a really beautiful Friday night dinner. It was just a really wholesome bonding experience for all the guys.” After that initiation, a new Brother came to him with tears in his eyes. “I said to him, ‘You know you’re in, you’re a Brother. You’re part of it.’ He fell on my shoulder crying and he said that he’s never had a community like this before. I just didn’t realize how impactful AEPi is for some students. I grew up with the community, thank G-d, but there were so many Brothers I’ve met that said I gave them their first Shabbat dinner. If they’ve never been around this many Jews in their life, they never had that community and we’re able to provide that for them.”
“Jewish outreach has always been an important thing to me. I, myself, as a religious Jew, would say the majority of the chapter is not religious. That’s totally fine, but it’s definitely given me an enriched experience to see Brothers who necessarily wouldn’t identify as religious stand so strongly about some issues whether it be kashrut or Shabbos. They do their part even if they didn’t grow up with it and that’s inspiring for me.”
One day, Brother Dishy’s friend Anna, who is a sister of a Jewish sorority in Toronto, proposed this idea of a radio segment on antisemitism to her boss, Steve Paikin. She then reached out to Brother Dishy and said that he would be a great fit to be a panelist. Paikin runs a current events show in Toronto called, “The Agenda” where he has panelists and segments on important issues that affect Toronto and all of Canada. “A few days later I was on the show and we’re speaking about antisemitism on campus. Steve really wanted to hear about personal cases of antisemitism that we’ve experienced throughout our careers at the University. I highlighted stories when a man called me an ‘effing Zionist’ on the street and when a professor of mine told me that a student of his had to drop out of his class because he was Jewish. The student’s parents didn’t want their daughter learning economics from a Jew.” Brother Dishy also spoke about how during COVID, when school was online, students were able to get riled up and just say whatever they wanted in the Zoom chat and there was almost zero recourse. “I took a business of the Middle East class and people were essentially saying that Israel is a colonial state and it’s the largest state sponsor of terrorism.” They also discussed antisemitism and anti-zionism and where the two overlap. “We’re seeing that more and more. It is important that Jews stand up and not be afraid or ashamed but be proud of their Judaism despite what’s going on in Israel; whether you agree with it or not. You should be proud of your Judaism.”
“I always wear a kippah; I’m a religious Jew. My Judaism is at the forefront. I’ve noticed other Brothers have started doing it too, even though they’re not religious. Wearing a kippah, I think it’s more than just a religious symbol, it publicizes who you are. Being a Jew you’re not a visible minority, you can’t really tell when you see one. Some Brothers have grown stronger in their Jewish pride and they’ve wanted to wear their kippahs. I set that example as Master, that you should be proud and you shouldn’t be ashamed. We have many Shabbat dinners in the chapter throughout the semester and I think it also brings a sense of Judaism home to a personal level for a lot of the Brothers.”
Brother Dishy’s advice for chapters looking to get involved is to partner with other local organizations like Hillel, JLIC, and StandWithUs. “I’m a StandWithUs Emerson fellow. I run events on campus about antisemitism and about Israel.” He suggests proactively asking Hillel when they are tabling for Israel and if you can join them. “Tabling can be a scary thing depending on the campus. If you have a campus that is very anti-Israel and you set up an Israel education table, you can get a lot of slurs, hate and bigotry. Knowing that there’s a group of strong AEPi Brothers behind their back means a tremendous amount for those students.”