The AZA Story
As written in the 6th edition of the Traditions Packet
In 1923 there was a group of 15 Jewish teens who wanted to join their school’s fraternity, the Alpha Zeta Alpha. The fraternity would not let them join because they were Jewish. They decided that they would protest the Greek system and start a Jewish fraternity using Hebrew letters. From this point on, they would be the Aleph Zadik Aleph. At first, the letters had no meaning. Two years later, when the Aleph Zadik Aleph for Young Men was adopted by B’nai B’rith, the name was interpreted to represent the motto of the sponsoring organization. The first Aleph was to stand for Ahavah, brotherly love; Zadik, T’zedakah, benevolence; the second Aleph, Achdoos, harmony. This first group would be known as Mother Chapter #1. Abe Baboir was elected as the Aleph Zadik Aleph’s first president and Nathan Mnookin would be the fraternity’s first advisor.
A few months after the fraternity was started, Mnooking moved to Kansas City where he started another chapter of this fraternity. The men of Mother Chapter #1 asked Sam Beber to be their next advisor. Beber had many dreams for the fraternity. He saw the fraternity spreading throughout the U.S. and the world. His idea was to have an unmistakably Jewish fraternity. Sam Beber is now regarded as the founder of the Aleph Zadik Aleph.
On May 3, 1924, at a meeting at Harry Lapidus’s house, a constitution was drawn up and the Aleph Zadik Aleph was officially established. At the same meeting, the Supreme Advisory Council was started as the policy-making body of the fraternity.
During July 4-6 1924, the first National Convention of the Aleph Zadik Aleph was held at the JCC in Omaha, Nebraska. At this time, there were four chapters: Mother Chapter AZA #1 in Omaha, Nebraska: AZA #2 in Kansas City, Kansas; AZA #3 in Lincoln, Nebraska; and AZA #4 in Des Moines, Iowa. Two thirds of the membership (94 people) came for a weekend of brotherhood and friendship. There was a deadlock for the Grand Aleph Godol race between Charles Shane and William Horowitz. Eventually, the decision was turned over to the Supreme Advisory Council and, on the fact that Shane was 20 and Horowitz was only 17, Shane became the first Grand Aleph Godol and Horowitz the first Grand Aleph S’gan.
At the 1925 B’nai B’rith International Convention, Henry Monsky presented a petition to get the Aleph Zadik Aleph adopted by B’nai B’rith. Of course the petition was accepted, and the Aleph Zadik Aleph was now the junior order of B’nai B’rith.
In 1926, at the second International Convention, Philip Klutznick was elected as the second Grand Aleph Godol. After his term, Klutznick became the International Director of AZA; he would later go on to serve as President of B’nai B’rith, US Ambassador to the UN, Chairman of the World Jewish Congress, and Secretary of Commerce under the Carter administration. Also in 1925, AZA went international, establishing the first Canadian chapter in Calgary, Alberta, and the Shofar, the official AZA newspaper, was created. In 1928, Dr. Boris D. Bogen presented his Five-Fold-and-Full plan, which developed the five folds of AZA: athletic, social, educational, community service/social action, and Judaic programming. The five folds have been used ever since as categories under which events may fall.
Despite the crippling Greate Depression, the AZA managed to continue to grow. After 10 years (in 1933), AZA had 100 chapters in North America. However, one of the most tragic events in the history of the order happened in 1932: Harry Lapidus, former treasurer of the Supreme Advisory Council, was assassinated. The Lapidus Memorial Forest in Palestine was established in his memory. In 1936, the first European chapter was created in Sofia, Bulgaria. It was called Karmen Chapter. In 1938, the first Middle Eastern chapter opened in Tel Aviv.
In the forties, AZA mobilized for war. Massive war support efforts of dollars and man-hours were contributed by AZA. Over 10,000 members and alumni served in the Canadian and US armed forces, and as many as 250 were reported killed. As a result, the minimum age of membership was lowered from 16 to 14. In 1944, B’nai B’rith Girls was officially recognized and BBYO was born. On November 10, 1944, the Supreme Advisory Council was replaced by the BBYO Commission, with Henry Monsky as its first chairman.
On the Silver Anniversary of AZA (1949), the order had about 420 chapters worldwide. The fifties held a time of great prosperity for BBYO just as it did for the rest of the US. The fraternity focused more and more on the leadership aspect, establishing International Kallah, ILTC, and ISI programs.
In 2002, BBYO Inc. split from B’nai B’rith and became an independent corporation.
When the Golden Anniversary of AZA took place in 1974, BBYO was at its height, with over 40,000 members worldwide. New programs, such as CLTC, had been created, and new regions of the world had enjoyed their first taste of BBYO. Noar Lenoar, the counterpart of BBYO in Israel, had been established.
BBYO’s membership declined following its height in the 70’s. Membership decreased to just over 15,000 in 2005. Although membership has decreased, BBYO is certainly not down-and-out. The many teens that now belong to the order experience the same feeling of brotherhood that those 15 boys felt 95 years ago when AZA was born.