Learning to Lead — Brother Eli Lyandres (Purdue, 2027)

“I was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana. There’s not much of a Jewish community there (editor’s note: it is the home of the University of Notre Dame) but we did have a small tight-knit orthodox community,” said Brother Eli Lyandres (Purdue, 2027). “I wanted to find Jewish education after high school and, since there wasn’t much of that in my hometown, I took a gap year and attended a six-month leadership program in Northern Israel.”

“I had visited Israel a few times before that trip but that was a very genuine Israeli experience. It was very immersive. There were 30 Israelis and 30 Americans in my program, and, of the Americans, I was one of two who were not fluent in Hebrew. My Hebrew is much better now! That program proved to be enriching and formative for me.”

Formative, for sure. Following that experience, Eli came back and enrolled at Purdue to study mechanical engineering and began looking to get involved in Jewish life.

“After my gap year, I was looking at coming to Purdue and knew I wanted to get involved in Jewish organizations. There was AEPi, Hillel and Chabad. I told a couple of AEPi Brothers that I was interested in a Jewish fraternity, and they immediately started reaching out to me.”

“AEPi is amazing. I never imagined I would be making such deep and genuine connections with my fraternity brothers. My college experience would be different without my gap year in Israel and without AEPi. I knew I wanted to be a part of the Jewish community and AEPi has been that for me.”

Through a meeting with a staffer from Jewish National Fund USA, Eli led his campus’ effort for a Tu B’shevat fundraiser. Eli, along with his AEPi brothers and others on campus, baked cookies and sold them on campus to raise money to plant trees in Israel. “We raised more than $800 and placed first in the contest with other colleges. Purdue doesn’t have a huge Jewish population and we still outraised campuses with many times more Jewish students!”

Since October 7, raising awareness about Israel and the hostages has been important for Eli. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) along with other groups held protests on campus and, eventually, put together an encampment. “For the most part it has been peaceful on campus but annoying. One day they were chanting ‘Decolonize Purdue’ on campus, and I thought, ‘Hey, I’m an Israeli citizen too. I don’t know what that means but I think they want me to go.’ I’m not going anywhere.”

Last year (in 2023, before Eli was enrolled at Purdue), SJP targeted the AEPi house and the large Israeli flag hanging outside. They wrote a letter to the then chapter president and university officials demanding that AEPi remove the “Zionist occupation flag.” The chapter’s response was to remove the flag and replace it with an even larger one. “So, people know,” said Eli. “We’re pretty involved in Jewish life.”

After his leadership of the JNF-USA fundraiser, Eli was approached to be a trip leader on a one-week trip to Israel this summer. “I was selected as one of four ‘bus chairs’ to help lead this trip on 50-60 undergraduates from around the country. We’re going to be primarily in southwest Israel, near Gaza, and helping those communities that were most impacted on October 7. We’re visiting the site of the Nova festival, helping to pack meals for IDF soldiers and helping to rebuild homes. Being in Israel at this time and helping Israelis to recover will be meaningful.” (Eli’s trip is currently taking place)

“I was selected for this role because of the relationships I have built and the leadership I have shown. That is all a direct result of AEPi. I’m active and involved in Jewish life at Purdue and have a passion for it because of AEPi.”

After returning from Israel next week, Eli will be interning in his hometown before he returns to West Lafayette next year with more responsibility. Eli was elected Pi Upsilon’s chapter president for the coming year. “I’m really excited for our chapter this year. I think that every Jewish man at Purdue should join AEPi or at least consider it. We’re going to continue to build our culture and our support for the Jewish community and Israel. It’s going to be a great year!”