College didn’t start out the way Brother Max Zimmerman (Towson, 2027) thought it would.
Early in his freshman year, immediately following the October 7 attacks in Israel, antisemitism began to run rampant on his campus. “There were a few incidents of Jewish students being harassed and antisemitic slurs being yelled on campus,” said Brother Zimmerman. Towson’s campus has an area known as “Freedom Square” where students (and others) often congregate to promote events or ideas or put messages on the walls. Within days after the attacks, the area was becoming overrun with antisemitism.
Brother Zimmerman came to Towson from his native Roslyn, NY to study to be a dentist. He was always interested in fraternity life. “When I heard there was a Jewish fraternity, I knew that AEPi was going to be my place.”
On October 9, some Brothers of the Tau Mu chapter at Towson joined with others in the campus Jewish community to staff a table to raise awareness of the need for help in Israel. “The Rabbi came up to us and asked if we wanted to wrap tefillin. I grew up Reform/Conservative. I got my tefillin on my Bar Mitzvah and never did anything with it. But, when the Rabbi wrapped me in tefillin that day I thought, ‘I know how to do this. I should do this tomorrow.”
“I have no idea where that idea came from, but I felt like it was the right thing to do. I thought I should get a group of people to go to Freedom Square where there was all this hate speech about Jews, and we should wrap tefillin and take a picture together to show people that there are Jews on this campus and we’re proud of being Jewish and we’re not going anywhere. We will be here no matter what.”
And, with those thoughts, Mitzvah Morning was born.
“We’ve done this now for about 70 days since then – we took some time off during break — but we’ll start up again when the semester starts. Some Brothers come together in the morning with others in the Jewish community and we just wrap tefillin together in a public place. Once a week the Rabbi comes and gives us a little Torah lesson. It’s a really cool way for us to be public and proud of our Jewish identity.”
The idea has begun to gain momentum following publicity and other campuses are beginning to pick up on Mitzvah Morning and the public and positive image it is bringing to the Jewish community. With his newfound notoriety, Brother Zimmerman was asked to speak with the Dean of Students and University President about antisemitism and free speech on campus. When the U.S. Secretary of Education came to Towson in November, Brother Zimmerman was asked to attend the meeting. He came with a presentation demonstrating the ways that some have attempted to scare or intimidate Jewish students on campus.
And each time that he’s been asked to be interviewed on the topic of free speech and antisemitism on campus, he proudly wears his AEPi letters. “People know what they mean.” (Here’s one such story that ran on the Associated Press).
Earlier this month, Brother Zimmerman joined with 100 other handpicked participants in Atlanta at AEPi’s Leven Leadership Academy. “I had no clue what I was getting into. I’m just a freshman. I’ve only been in AEPi a couple of months, but Leven was the most amazing experience I’ve had.”
“I met Brothers from all over the world and we talked and shared ideas. I told them about Morning Mitzvah and they told me about their campuses. The speakers were amazing. The networking was great. I learned so much that I’m bringing back to my campus and my chapter.”
“What I learned at Leven was just insane.”
During his conversations with other Brothers, an idea was generated, and he launched a business – while at Leven! – to develop a rush shirt business. “My website launched last weekend and I’m already working with Brothers all over the country to raise awareness and make shirts for chapters that are high quality and less expensive.” The company can be found at www.rushline.shop and on Instagram at RushLine.shop.
“For me, after Leven and my experiences in my first semester, I can’t wait to get back to school. To bring these ideas to my chapter and to get back to Mitzvah Mornings. I want to set precedents and not accept antisemitism and antizionism on campus. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”