Active members of Chabad at USC gathered together for the groundbreaking of the new renovations to the Chabad House. The event featured a home-cooked brunch, a self-guided tour of what changes will be made to the house and speeches by leaders in the Jewish community.
The ceremony marked the first effort to fundraise for the 125-year-old house’s renovations. Because of the history behind the home, not many foundational changes can be made: The only option is expansion while keeping the look of the inside the same.
Chabad has been at USC for 13 years, and has used the house for the past 10; however, the house is now in a state of disrepair and requires a good amount of maintenance.
Some of the plans include extending the kitchen out by eight feet, tripling the size of the dining hall and adding a large porch on the second level for social gatherings. The ceremony featured posters of computer models of the new house, as well as proposed floor plans.
The renovation costs could total than $3 million, so leaders at Chabad are reaching out to the Jewish community to raise funds for the hopefully year-long construction project.
Some students who frequent the Chabad house, like Jordan Harmon, a senior majoring in fine arts, said they fully support the renovations.
“It’s necessary because the bigger the Chabad house, the more Jews that can come; it deserves help, the people here are amazing and they need a new place to create Jewish life,” Harmon said.
Chabad’s primary weekly event is their Shabbat, held every Friday night for all students or community members who wish to eat, socialize and celebrate their faith.
Many students rave about the delicious home-cooked food made by Rabbi Dov Wagner’s wife, Runya Wagner. This warm welcome usually sees the dining room packed to capacity, with students overflowing outside the house.
Chabad leaders hope the renovations can help them successfully cater to the school’s growing Jewish presence.
“The dining room is packed all the time, there’s no room and they’re really splitting tables,” said Eric Pakravan, a junior majoring in business administration. “If you need to leave, the whole room has to stand up so you can leave the dining room, so [renovation] is definitely very needed, and hopefully it’ll bring more people to Chabad in the future.”
The open arms of the Wagners and the Jewish Greek life in fraternities like Alpha Epsilon Pi and Sigma Alpha Mu have helped the Jewish community at USC become very close, and religious leaders hope this renovation will add to this relationship.
“More than other religious groups on campus, Chabad really provides a family setting and a home away from home,” said Varun Soni, dean of religious life at USC. “To create this incredibly nurturing and supportive environment, we really do need a bigger space here.”
Though raising the money will no doubt be a challenge, the Chabad House sees the renovation as necessary to acheive their dreams.
“That’s what we’re doing here today: Dov and I had our hopes and dreams, populations and balance sheets, but ultimately we’re doing a ground-breaking,” Runya Wagner said. “Not because we’ve got the commitments in hand, or the money in the bank, but because we know it needs to be done. And if it needs to be done, it will be done. That I can guarantee you.”