Mike Leven Recieves Gitelson Medallion

Last month, the Alpha Epsilon Pi Foundation presented Brother Michael Leven (Tufts, 1959) with the Gitelson Silver Medallion, which recognizes AEPi alumni for their commitment to Jewish communal services. In the 111-year history of Alpha Epsilon Pi, only 59 AEPi alumni (out of more than 120,000) have received this prestigious honor.

Brother Leven is a legendary business executive and visionary philanthropist. Inspired by Warren Buffet’s and Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge, he founded the Jewish Future Promise to carry on his family’s commitment to Judaism. Brother Leven currently serves on the boards of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Foundation; ZOA; Jewish National Fund, Honorary board member of Birthright Israel Foundation; Trustee, Hadassah College of Jerusalem and The Marcus Foundation.

A native of the Dorchester suburb of Boston, Brother Leven grew up in decidedly humble surroundings. But that experience helped shape his values and outlook.

“Growing up in the 50s was a much more innocent time. It is so much more complex and difficult today. I’m very thankful to have had the foundation that I had. My first job was as a soda jerk at Ingalls Drug Store, and I made 42 and a half cents an hour. We didn’t have a TV in our house until 1948. I used to go across the street to a gas station to hang out and watch TV on an eight-inch set there.”

After graduating from the prestigious Boston Latin School, he began his college career at Tufts University. “I commuted to school my first semester. I was sort of a lost soul. I didn’t know anyone. I was a fish out of water.

“When rush came around in November of my first semester, I didn’t even know what a fraternity was. There were two Jewish fraternities at the time. Really, they were both similar. They were a fraternity of Jews, not really a Jewish fraternity. At the time, I had a cousin who was also at Tufts and he was into rushing AEPi. I went to rush and met a senior guy named Richard Werby (Tufts, 1957). We connected and even though I didn’t expect to get in, I did…and my cousin didn’t! I convinced my parents to let me move into the AEPi house in the second semester and that began my AEPi career.”

“We didn’t have the best reputation on campus, and I set a goal to compete with Phi Ep (a formerly Jewish fraternity which was later absorbed into ZBT) within three and a half years. And, we did! We won academic and sports awards…we even won the football championship.”

“I became president of AEPi at Tufts and that’s where I learned about leadership. AEPi taught me how to manage other people and manage their relationships.”

Following a brief stint in law school, Brother Leven returned home to Boston and became the first in his family to attend graduate school. “I was only the third person in my family to go to college, so it was a big achievement.” At Boston University, he began a program in public relations and communications.

“In May of 1961, I was engaged, and I had to find a job. I sent out 100 letters to PR and ad agencies in Boston and New York and finally got offered a position as the sales promotion manager at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York City. My wife-to-be was from Northern New Jersey so that worked out. They hired me for $5,200 a year plus free lunch.”

Thus began a career in the hospitality industry which took Brother Leven around the world. He served as president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, the chairman and chief executive officer of US Franchise Systems, the president and chief operating officer of Holiday Inn Worldwide, and the president of Days Inn of America. He was a co-founder of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), an organization that has more than 19,000 members owning more than 40,000 hotels.

He credits much of his involvement in Jewish causes to an executive at the Atlanta Jewish Federation. “He just called me up and told me that I needed to get involved and that I would see the power of getting involved. I met a lot people and made a lot of connections and then I never looked back. I started getting more involved in Jewish and other civic organizations.”

“At the end of my career, I reconnected with AEPi. I spoke to Bernie Marcus and Sheldon Adelson and learned that, after all of these years, AEPi had become more than just a fraternity of Jews. AEPi had become a Jewish fraternity and was helping to teach its members about leadership and advocacy. And, I wanted to be a part of that.”

Brother Leven is now the funder and catalyst behind AEPi’s Leven Institute which brings together more than 100 AEPi student leaders each year to learn about leadership and advocacy in their fraternity chapters, on their college campuses and in their communities.

“I love to see the way that leaders work. I love to work with the young men each year. It’s very pure in their approach. I like to think we’re making a difference with those young men in terms of their advocacy and their leadership skills.”

“AEPi taught me how to lead and now I can help share and make a difference.”


Mike Leven (right) receives the Gitelson from Dan Hays, Chair of the AEPi Foundation.