I recently received an inquiry from an Aleph who asked:
…was wondering if you knew any good fraternity programs, since that would be useful to the region and our chapter…
That started me thinking. What would make a good fraternity program (and for the purposes of this conversation, let’s assume everything I say refers to sisterhood as well)? Let’s also assume that this Aleph is looking for a program that strengthens fraternity, not just one that teaches or talks about it.
So, what is fraternity?
According to the Blue Book it is:

A spirit of sociability, of cooperation and of friendship toward all AZA’s that shall make of us one fellowship; a love of and a loyalty to AZA and its ideals.

Hmmm… Sounds very nice. But what does it mean? Let’s consider the key words:

  • Sociable – friendly or agreeable in company
  • Cooperation – an act or instance of working or acting together for a common purpose or benefit.
  • Friend – a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard

So what is fraternity? One thing it’s not is friendship. A degree of friendship is a part of fraternity, but it’s only a “spirit” of friendship. When the description talks of love and loyalty it doesn’t talk about other members (as it might with friendship), but rather about AZA and its ideals.
So when people talk about how close they feel to other members of the chapter, they’re talking about friendship and belonging, but they aren’t talking about fraternity. So when are you talking about fraternity?
You’re talking about fraternity when you’re talking about how BBYO and your chapter bind you together – how it influences your conduct (hopefully for the better).
You’re talking about fraternity when you talk about working together and getting along with ALL members – not just your friends.
Or put another way. The strongest fraternity is not seen when best friends support each other (that’s friendship). The strongest fraternity is when members who hate each other force themselves to get along and work together for the benefit of the chapter. When they put the community’s needs above their own!
This is something that larger chapters understand almost instinctively (if they didn’t, they never would have gotten large). It’s something that smaller chapter must learn if they expect to succeed (because the key to growing larger is in accepting everyone, not just the “cool” kids).
So what makes a good fraternity program? Examples might include…
…A program on conflict resolution would surely qualify. One that teaches people to resolve differences. Perhaps through scenarios, skits and role plays.
…A program on choices – where you have to evaluate between two choices where one is more beneficial to the individual but the other benefits others – for surely placing the needs of others and of the community equal to and sometimes ahead of your own is a foundation of fraternity.
…Any mixer program – that encourages people to get to know each other beyond superficiality would qualify. A “secrets” type program or values program where people position themselves in a room based on a statement could encourage fraternity.
…Any program that presents individuals with a challenge that they must overcome together can help build fraternity.
…A program that evaluated choices or situations based on the Seven Cardinal Principles (or Jewish values in general) would qualify (remember – loyalty to the ideal of AZA is part of fraternity as well).
And while you’re working on a fraternity program, take a close look at that most critical of principles: conduct. Because let’s face it, you can have the greatest spirit of fraternity in the world, but it’s not worth anything if you don’t act on it.