Ambassador Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York, spoke at the Chabad House on Sept. 12, where members of the Jewish community gathered for the bi-annual Jewnity Shabbat dinner.
The dinner, hosted by the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center, featured Aharoni and Russell F. Robinson, the CEO of the Jewish National Fund, who spoke to students.
“I’m here as an official representative of the state of Israel to say thank you to the Jewish National Fund for all the great work that they’ve done, and bring the message from Israel to the students,” Aharoni said.
Aharoni cultivated the concept of “nation branding” and founded the organization “Brand Israel,” a coalition of seven marketing and communication executives. The organizations aims to redirect the existing conversation about Israel.
“The conversation about Israel usually is about Israel’s problems,” he said.
Nation branding is derived from psychology, sociology and anthropology whereas classic diplomacy stemmed from law, history and advocacy, according to Ahraoni.
“Branding is all about emotions and relationships, about the tie that exists between a person and a place,” he said.
Students were in agreement with Ahraoni’s speech when he talked about the status of Israel.
“I think it’s very important for people to understand what’s going on in the world,” said Shaun Edalati, a sophomore majoring in international relations (global business). “Some people [including Jews] are uneducated.”
The event was sponsored in part by the Jewish National Fund, a nonprofit organization that purchases and develops land for Jewish settlement through reforestation and other efforts. Their visit to USC is part of a tradition that accompanies the Jewish National Fund’s annual conference, which is held in Beverly Hills this year.
“Every year it’s a different city,” Robinson said. “We’ve always made a decision that we’re going to hold a Shabbat dinner with the Jewish students from the nearest college or university,”
Shabbat dinners welcome the Sabbath day in the Jewish faith. The Jewnity Shabbat dinner is an event where all Jewish organizations, including Hillel and Chabad, congregate once per semester.
The tradition began eight years ago when student leaders at Chabad @ USC approached the staff at USC Hillel to create the event, according to Rabbi Dov Wagner of Chabad @ USC.
“I think they were excited to start this program with us,” he said, “It remains very popular among the students that are involved in each organization,”
Each semester, the location of Jewnity alternates between these two organizations to bring the entire community closer despite differing worship styles.
“At the Chabad house, I live here with my family,” Wagner said. “When people join us at Shabbat dinner, they’re going [to see] me, my wife and kids who live here on campus, it’s a little bit more of that home emphasis.”
Edalati agreed that the dinner was a reminder of home.
“It’s so much food,” he said. “It’s exactly what my mom would cook on a Shabbat night.”
A traditional service at Chabad requires that men and women sit separately so attendees can be in a group of their own gender and not be distracted by members of the opposite sex, according to Emily Hyatt, a rabbinic intern for USC Hillel.
Despite differences among Jewish organizations, the purpose of Jewnity is to remind students that Jewish groups are different parts of a single community. The evening started with traditional songs and prayers. Afterwards, the Chabad house hosted a multicourse feast.
Several student groups co-sponsored the event, including Trojans for Israel, USC Sigma Delta Tau and Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity.
Yonatan Hirshberg, a freshman majoring in screenwriting said he did not know what to expect out of the evening, but was glad he attended.
“I’ve met a lot of my friends and I saw my RA here,” he said, “I really liked the speakers.”
Upcoming events in the Jewish community include the Chabad 500 and spring Jewnity, which will be hosted at Hillel. Both Rabbis Wagner and Hyatt have a great passion for working with the students at USC.
“We can have a lot of different mindsets, different perspectives, different ways in which we worship, in which we express our Jewish identity,” Wagner said. “But at [the] core we’re one community.”