The History of Sigma Alpha Rho


Below: William Braude, one of the principal founders of SAR

This is the story of eleven young men and what they made possible. This is the story of a small Philadelphia social club and the Sigma Alpha Rho Fraternity it founded. This is the story of Brotherhood, of fraternity, of a spirit united by one oath engendering self-learning, responsibility, and cultural aspects that modeled youth into men - men prepared to meet the problems of the world.

In September 1917, the United States. had entered the First World War, while the "Soathical Club," a young group of boys, mostly students at West Philadelphia High School, came into being. But this Social and Athletic Club, as a club, was to have a short life.  As destiny would have it, upon the suggestion of William Braude one November evening, less than two months after the group's birth, the "Soathical Club" became a fraternity.  William Baude, Jules Feinstein, Joseph Marion, and Benjamin Landau created the ritual and on November 18, 1917, Sigma Alpha Rho Fraternity was founded. Soon thereafter, SARbegan to grow. The Gleaming Eye, created by Alexander Meisel, became known as the Fraternity pin, and royal purple and white became the Fraternity's colors.

For three and a half years, the Fraternity consisted of the Phi Chapter and acted as a single unit, but then a decision to expand was made. On the evening of June 10, 1921 on the roof garden of the Lorraine Hotel in Philadelphia, ten students of Central High School solemnly took the oath of induction and became the Sigma Chapter. One by one, chapter by chapter, Sigma Alpha Rho grew.  Theta, Omega, Iota, Xi, and Epsilon were just the beginning. A governing body was set up and more chapters were formed as SAR reached out in one broad, fan-like motion.  Leon S. Rosenthal became the Fraternity's first Supreme Exalted Ruler. On January 20, 1924, the Philadelphia District Council came into being, organized to supervise and unify the activity of the Philedelphia Chapters.

In February 1924, the Gleaming Eye, the national newspaper, made its initial appearance. The first convention was held in August of that year in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Soon, the need for a more localized government was recognized as additional chapters in the New York area were inducted. Therefore, the Metropolitan District Council was organized. Later that year, a third Council, the Western Pennsylvania District Council, came into being.

A dramatic high point of this period was the induction of the Theta Theta Chapter of New Orleans, Louisiana, on December 29, 1929.  But soon the Great Depression came and the very survival of the Fraternity was an every day consideration. Plans were made, and the Sigma Rhos of each chapter began to meet. Hence, the first Sigma Rhos' conclave was held at  Hotel Walton in Philadelphia, on December 3, 1933. With signs of recovery, the first issue of the handbook was published in 1937, and the Mid-Southern, Southern, and Central Pennsylvania District Councils were established by 1939.

But again, with the outbreak of World War, strains on the fraternity ensued. Many brothers would be missed at future Conventions as a result of the new Nazi terror. Some, like Supreme Exalted Ruler Irving Rathblott, would perish in this great tragedy.

During these dire straits, new leaders rose up to guide the dispirited Brothers.   Supreme Exalted Ruler, Harold "Whitey" Weissman, dubbed the slogan, "Gung Ho", to mean Work Together. The 1946 "Victory" Convention started off the post war era with a gigantic celebration. Some 800 Sigma Alpha Rho Brothers crowded into New york's Henry Hudson and Park Central Hotels for this momentous occasion. As time moved on, the first Purple &White Yearbook was published and the Eastern District Council was created in 1946.  The financial scholarship became reality when, in 1948, Brother Seymour Zygott became it's first recipient.  Sigma Alpha Rho joined the Inter-Fraternity Congress of America.

In the 1950s, more progress was made as a Scholastic Achievement Program was initiated and a National Fraternity Flag was adopted.  Expansion again became a key, for in 1958, the total chapter roll was up to 50 active groups.  Much of this was due to the unfaltering determination of Supreme Exalted Rulter Charles Bogdanoff.

In the 1960s, Sigma Alpha Rho moved into such areas as Massachusetts, Alabama, California, and even across the border into Canada.  Sigma Alpha Rho of America became known as Sigma Alpha Rho Fraternity International.

As the Vietnam War raged overseas, Sigma Alpha Rho was again faced with troubling times.  To meet the challenge of a wavering Fraternity, an Alumnus was called for the first time to lead Sigma Alpha Rho.  Jerry Krader, as Supreme Exalted Ruler, brought a "New Direction" to SAR.  Youth leadership became a major role and Chapters again became strong as new leaders emerged such as Carl Bagell and Stu Discount.

The Torch Is Passed To A New Generation

As a new generation of inductees approached their fraternity careers with enthusiasm and vigor, few could have anticipated the strides in quality and diversity that the 80s and 90s would bring. When Past S.E.R. Emil Goldhaber announced at the mammoth 65th Anniversary Alumni affair that he was stepping down as Chief Justice of the Judicial Tribunal after serving fifty years on that august body, it was clear that change would come to all levels of Leadership and Programming.

Perhaps the evolution of this era is best dramatized by the remarkable passage in communications from the classic monthly letter from the S.E.R. to the weekly SAR-In-Action Newsletter, the telephone hot line, the SAR web-site and, ultimately, to the mass E-mails initiated by the Millennium's First Chief Executive, Michael Mendelson. Training in fraternal excellence moved from pep talks at stags at meetings to hi-tech video library, leadership seminars and retreats and interactive personal strategies initiated by home-grown motivational experts. Truly, Sigma Alpha Rho not only adjusted to the new times and technology, but greatly improved its brother-to-brother contacts.

During these years, multi-term Supreme Exalted Rulers became more the practice then the exception: Five-term Supreme Exalted Ruler Jason Saylor, four-term Supreme Exalted Rulers Stuart Discount, Larry Blumenthal, and Mike Mendelson, and three-term SER's served by Robert Malmud, and Adam Goldstein, as well as a dedicated group of two-term leaders included Brad Heisman, Josh Malis, Marty Hyatt, and Gary Discount. Yeoman’s service was gratefully acknowledged from Al Roth, Joel Hollander, Steve Wernick, Scott Levin, and Eric Matisoff.

Some might say that they quality of SAR experience have never changed, but the traditions were clearly augmented. The mid-year Convention grew in size and scope and rivaled its parent Convention. Often attracting two and three times the attendance of the August meeting, creative event presentation was coupled with targeted chapter problem solving, added to the social, athletic and religious agendas.

" Modern" brothers now look forward to racquet ball parties, all night gym events at the J.C.C., lavish alumni banquets, the Preakness Conclave, adopting a Jewish old age home, ski trips, spirit weekends, theme park trips and skirmish. Even the convention sites have been expanded to include Virginia Beach, Niagara Falls, Ocean City, Maryland and Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Rathblott scholarships have grown in size and number. A robust alumni organization celebrates our founding with huge reunions every five years and has embarked on a vocational guidance offering. The original Abbie (for the best chapter) established in 1928 has been encased and an Abbie II is now awarded each year. Training of new chapters and pledge classes has been standardized to emphasize knowledge and commitment.

Sigma Alpha Rho has also had its losses. Emil Goldhaber, then the oldest serving Judge in the U.S. Court System, passed away. The great inspiration of Harold Weissman is no longer with us. Jerry Krader, who paved the groundwork for the new direction, left us far to early in life. Fortunately, a coterie of extremely active past S.E.R.'s, including Carl Bagell, Stuart Discount, Nathan Strauss, Larry Blumenthal, Martin Hyatt, Robert Malmud and Charles Bogdanoff have stepped into the mentor's role and continue to bring their wisdom to the critical issues of the day.

Every month, newly ritualized fraternity men accept the challenge to make Sigma Alpha Rho stronger, more focused and greater force for the good within their immediate Jewish community and in their nation. They carry forth proudly those cherished goals begun so long ago in the little Talmud Torah on 60th Street in Philadelphia in 1917. The successes of these ideals have withstood the test of time and will be limited in the future only by strength of our initiative and the devotion of out brotherhood

Additional historical information, modified since 1931, is available by clicking here!